No aspects of my review of the Charities Act 2006, published last July, aroused such strong reactions as those concerning charitable fundraising.
On the one hand, I found that the public disliked methods of fundraising that were seen as over-aggressive (for example, street collection) or wasteful (for example, direct mail). The public also thought the regulatory landscape confusing: what, for example, was the difference between the Institute of Fundraising, the Fundraising Standards Board and the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association? There was a strong preference for a single, clearly signposted complaints procedure covering all aspects.
The sector, by contrast, emphasised the value placed by individual charities on maintaining their reputations, which, they argued, gave them every incentive to behave properly. Proponents of each fundraising method tended to see the regulatory challenge as being someone else's problem - their attitude seemed to be "We're all right, Jack!" Smaller charities resented the way larger charities followed the letter rather than the spirit of national exemption orders. Everyone agreed that it was wrong that commercial collections were unregulated.
It was clear a delicate balance had to be struck between a charity's right to ask and the public's right not to be unduly hassled. I was, and remain, convinced that self-regulation is the preferred option - it provides the flexibility to respond quickly to changes in fundraising methods and will do so at a much lower cost than any statutory scheme. But if it is to work, everybody needs to put their shoulder to the wheel. It means the pooling of some sovereignty, the giving up of some cherished ideas and some appropriate support and encouragement from the Charity Commission and the Cabinet Office.
I know a lot of work has been taking place behind the scenes since my review was published. I appreciate that these things take time and effort to sort out. Nevertheless, the prize is great - a clear, transparent regulatory structure that gives confidence to the public, encourages high standards (so allowing the early identification of problems) and enables local charities to co-exist happily with large national ones. Can this be achieved? I believe so - fundraising is too important for charities to be allowed to fail because of prejudice, obstinacy or a refusal to face reality.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts is a Conservative peer