INSTITUTE OF FUNDRAISING: Independent complaints scheme to be welcomed

Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising

I was recently taken to task as to why there are no fundraisers on the Commission into the Future of Self-Regulation in Fundraising (otherwise known as the Buse Commission). The challenge I was given was to refute that this was yet another example of where fundraisers cannot be trusted.

Since the Institute set up the Buse Commission in the first place, it is worth putting this initiative into context.

Firstly, I totally accept that there is no real clear measurable evidence that we need yet more regulation. When the government called for the setting up of a new regulatory body they produced no evidence. Our response quoted the Home Office's own statistics that between October 2000 and June 2002 only 36 comments or complaints about fundraising were received.

The Charity Commission received 312 and investigated one in four of them in the financial year 2001-2002. This, along with trends in giving and attitudinal surveys from the likes of nfpSynergy, would indicate that this is a solution looking for a problem.

Let's leave aside the political issue that the government has said it wants such a scheme and plans to introduce one. Instead, let's look at why such a scheme might be introduced and what it would aim to achieve.

The main purpose of any such scheme has to be to try to maintain, or even raise, levels of public trust and confidence. Nobody can predict the future. Nobody can know if the current relatively high levels of trust and confidence will continue or why they are at the levels they are now.

More worrying is that by the time we can measure a downturn in trust and confidence it is too late to do much about it. Trust is too easily lost and virtually impossible to replace.

Even if we had many millions of pounds for research we could still not guarantee that we could track its decline quickly enough to take remedial action. Almost every other walk of life has suffered a reduction, why not us? Perhaps it has already happened but we don't yet know the impact?

Against such questions and scenarios we have to do whatever we reasonably can to ensure the right environment for giving into the future. The key word here is "reasonably". Up until now all of the work setting standards in fundraising and defining best practice has been done with the eyes of an introvert. We have looked at the development and promotion of the Codes of Fundraising Practice from a fundraiser's viewpoint.

The work of the Buse Commission is to ensure that the donor or supporter's perspective is taken into consideration. Transparency and independence are two of the core requirements of this work. For this reason there are no fundraisers on the commission but they have access to an expert panel with lots of views and opinions, the Institute's members.

If I have a problem with my lawyer I can report him or her to the Law Society. If I do not get what I think is satisfaction then I might think: "They would say that, wouldn't they!"

The next point to make is that we must not let any new self-regulatory structure get in the way of good high-quality fundraising.

Additional bumpf and bureaucracy is the last thing fundraising organisations need and we will not lose sight of the fact that this is all about raising more to do more good.

The whole culture of the Codes of Fundraising Practice to date is to aid and help fundraisers rather than inhibit their work. We will work very hard to ensure this continues.

The overall end result that we seek is to have much greater awareness of the existence of best practice standards and have more fundraising organisations contributing to their development.

Once we have achieved this, a better understanding of the role and contribution of fundraising will follow.

The fundraising community should welcome the setting up of an independent complaints procedure that is clearly fair and open. Such a complaints body would be extremely foolish to not listen to expert advice from a wide body of experienced fundraisers but may from time to time not agree with them.

We should have the trust and confidence that such a system would improve and promote understanding in what we do.

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