Investigated charities did not want trustees to oversee fundraising, says MP

Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative who chairs the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, tells an IoF gathering that executives didn't want their boards to know much about it

Bernard Jenkin
Bernard Jenkin

The charities accused of malpractice last year did not want their trustees to have oversight of their fundraising practices, Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said today.

Speaking at the Institute of Fundraising’s trustees and fundraising conference in London this morning, Jenkin, whose committee last year carried out an inquiry into the fundraising practices used by major charities including Save the Children, the NSPCC, Oxfam and the RSPCA, said the difficulties the charities experienced could not be attributed to a lack of fundraising expertise on their boards.

Jenkin was responding to Jon Scourse, a former chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board, who had expressed concern at the lack of fundraising expertise on charities’ boards.

Jenkin said: "I don’t think the lack of fundraising expertise was the problem on these trustee bodies. What was happening here was the executives were raising money very successfully and they didn’t really want charity trustees to know very much about it."

Jenkin said that any layperson who visited the fundraising agencies employed by these charities would have felt uncomfortable. "You don’t really need to understand fundraising," he continued. "You just needed to understand what it felt like to be on the other end of a telephone call.

"If they’d looked at the scripts that were intended to be used and if they’d had some private conversations with some of the people who’d left, they would have learned all they needed to know."

The politician, who is the Conservative MP for Harwich & North Essex, acknowledged that a fundraising expert who became a trustee would be able to give more support to the trustee body than one without this background, but insisted that this was not the main problem at the four charities his committee took evidence from during its inquiry.

"The job of a trustee is to ask about things they don’t understand, not to say ‘I’m not qualified to ask the question because I don’t understand charity fundraising,’" he said. "In fact, the advantage of being a layperson is that you ask the questions that a professional wouldn’t think of asking."

He said, for example, that a trustee inexperienced in fundraising might ask: "How is it right for us to phone people and ask for money?"

Jenkin also called for the Information Commissioner’s Office to be given the power to prosecute charities that broke data-protection rules. The regulator is due soon to conclude an investigation of the data-protection practices at Macmillan Cancer Support, Oxfam and the NSPCC.

He said the ICO should do more mystery shopping and horizon scanning, "rather than cleaning up after the event".

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