Lesley-Anne Alexander: The woman who doesn't want to pay for the regulator

Lesley-Anne Alexander
Lesley-Anne Alexander

The first significant resistance to the government's plans for the new Fundraising Regulator has come from Lesley-Anne Alexander, chief executive of the sight-loss charity the RNIB, who has declared she is not willing to pay the £15,000 the regulator has requested from the top 50 fundraising charities to fund its start-up costs.

Alexander, who has a track record of independent thinking, wrote to Stephen Dunmore, interim chief executive of the regulator, on 17 February, to say she could not agree to the payment without being sure it would be a good use of donors' money. She was emboldened, she says, by the knowledge that other charities supported the move.

"I talk to lots of other charity chief executives and there are loads of them that are in my space," she says. "I'm getting quite a lot of support on Twitter, email and other media for the stance that I've taken."

Alexander says she has heard that of the 50 charities that were asked to pay for the start-up costs of the regulator by the Institute of Fundraising and the Public Fundraising Association last November, only 28 have responded positively. Dunmore, who wrote to the RNIB and other charities on 10 February to request the money be handed over within two or three weeks, confirmed this was the case.

"For charities to have to pay for the new regulator just strikes me as ridiculous," says Alexander. "Where does anybody think the money comes from to pay the regulator? I now have the prospect of saying to my donors that, as well as paying our taxes and professional advisers' fees, I now have to pay for a quango."

Alexander believes it was unreasonable for Dunmore, whom she has never met, to ask her to pay what she says is a "huge" amount of money, in a letter that was no more than a page and a half long.

Her irritation stems partly from her belief that a new regulator should not have been created at all and that the Charity Commission should instead have been strengthened and the Telephone and Mailing Preference Services tightened up.

She also believes it is unfair that charities should be asked to pay a levy that will be used in part to fund payments to the Fundraising Regulator's new board members, who will be paid £300 a day for their work, when charities find it hard to get permission to pay their own trustees. She says that one of the RNIB's trustees is paid, but this was permitted only after five months of negotiations with the Charity Commission.

"This is the same Charity Commission that pays its commissioners," she says. "If it's OK for the Fundraising Regulator and it's OK for the Charity Commission, why isn't it OK for the RNIB and other charities? What I want is a level playing field."

Alexander also has reservations about whether the Fundraising Regulator's board members have enough relevant experience to do a good job, given that none of them has been chief executive of a large fundraising charity or a fundraiser.

When he announced the appointments on 11 February, Lord Grade, chair of the regulator, said that it was in the process of recruiting two additional members with fundraising expertise. But Alexander believes these people should have been brought on board first. "The way I run my charity is to have my stakeholders central to what I'm trying to achieve and not go 'oops, we forgot'," she says.

"I'm sick to death of self-appointed experts having an opinion about how charities are and how we should be run. You need some practitioners in there, because it's people at the coalface who understand how difficult this stuff is."

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