Lord Grade
Lord Grade

"We got it open on time… blimey, now the real works starts," says Lord Grade, chair of the Fundraising Regulator, just minutes after its official launch in London yesterday.

The organisation might have achieved its aim of opening its doors by the early summer, but plenty of work remains: the Fundraising Preference Service still needs to be set up, a levy put in place to fund the body and updates made to the Code of Fundraising Practice, which was yesterday transferred to the regulator from the Institute of Fundraising.

There will also be the small matter of investigating the complaints that come its way.

So what attracted Grade to such a big job? "The importance of it," he tells Third Sector. "It was really worrying to see those high-profile bad cases and how damaging that could be if it wasn’t under control."

And when Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, called to offer him the job in November, the Etherington review – which Grade saw as a "stunning piece of work" – helped to convince him to accept.

The Conservative peer, who was chairman of the BBC from 2004 to 2006 and executive chairman of ITV for three years after that, believes he is qualified for the role because he has frequently been on the receiving end of regulation during his career in television.

He is also, he says, a very practical man: "I’m not one for philosophy and vision. I’m more for ‘here’s the problem, what are the options and what are we going to do about it?’"

But if the public distrust of fundraising is the problem, some in the sector believe Grade could end up making it worse. His revelation in an interview with The Sunday Times last weekend that he typically tells doorstep fundraisers to "bugger off" when they approach him led to indignant retorts at the IoF Convention this week and on social media.

"Some people thought I was spot on," says Grade, who is unrepentant about his remarks and dismisses the suggestion that he could have expressed himself in a more tactful manner.

"Putting it as starkly as I did, from personal experience, would have resonated with the British public," he says. "It might not be the way that some people in the sector would have expressed it, but I’m not them. I am who I am. It’s a message that needs to get through."

Grade believes, in short, that his role is to speak up for donors, not fundraisers. He hopes the sector will grow to view him positively – as fair and willing to listen – but says that the regulator is there to be respected, not liked. "In the end we have decisions to make that people won’t like," he says.

The regulator’s predecessor, the Fundraising Standards Board, repeatedly encountered a sector that disliked its decisions. Indeed, charities often got their lawyers involved to dispute its adjudications.

But Grade says the new regulator will take a firmer stance in the face of opposition. If charities disagree, it will be "tough," he says, although he concedes that the regulator is looking to put in place a reviewer – independent of its board – to rule on particularly disputed cases.

Grade is keen to emphasise that the regulator itself will be independent from the rest of the sector.

He rejects the notion that the IoF has already exerted significant influence over it by securing board-level appointments for three people who have served on IoF committees.

"We would be fools not to absorb some of the knowledge and experience the IoF has, but we will be our own masters," he insists. "We’re not in thrall to any particular interest. We want to work with the different interests but under no circumstances are we going to be in thrall to them, otherwise there’s no point in having us."

One of the first tests of that will be if the regulator’s standards committee – led by Suzanne McCarthy, the former Immigration Services Commissioner who was recruited by the IoF last September – shows itself willing to amend the code of practice in ways the IoF itself would have resisted.

Giving a clue as to the first changes the committee might make, Grade says that the "intrusion, invasion, pestering and pressure on the vulnerable" by fundraisers still needs to be tackled and some charities might also be overstepping the mark with their commercial relationships.

Referring to the recent Age UK case, when The Sun newspaper claimed that the charity was earning £6m a year from selling to its beneficiaries a tariff with the energy provider E.ON, he says: "I don’t have a problem with charities endorsing a product – the question is whether, when they agree to endorse, they’ve done enough to find out if it’s the right product for their people and on what basis they are recommending the product."

And how does Grade feel about Scotland’s decision to reject the London-based regulator in favour of setting up its own regulatory system?

"It’s not a rejection because we’ll have the same code," he says. "I would have had a serious issue if they wanted to have their own code and they were different, but the Scots have been absolutely sure from the beginning they wanted to have the same code."

That might not be the case for much longer: Scotland has reserved the right to develop its own fundraising standards at a later date.

Nevertheless, Grade says: "The last thing we’re going to have is a turf war with Scotland – we’ve got better things to do."

First up is deciding how the new FPS will work – a decision the sector awaits with bated breath.

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