MPs grill fundraising bodies about public trust

Peter Lewis of the Institute of Fundraising tells Public Administration Select Committee that people have a high level of confidence in charities

Peter Lewis
Peter Lewis

The chief executives of the three bodies involved in the self-regulation of fundraising have defended their roles in maintaining public trust and confidence in charities before a panel of MPs.

Sally de la Bedoyere from the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, Alistair McLean from the Fundraising Standards Board and Peter Lewis from the Institute of Fundraising, appeared before the Public Administration Select Committee this morning as part of its inquiry into the implementation and operation of the Charities Act 2006.

Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative MP for Dover and a member of the committee, said: "Polls show that two-thirds of the public say some fundraising methods make them feel uncomfortable, and 20 per cent say more should be done to regulate fundraising activities.

"People are being pursued by chuggers and hard-sellers. Do you not think it is time to draw in and win back public confidence and trust?"

In response, Lewis said he did not and pointed to various statistics that he said suggested high levels of public trust and confidence in charities remained.

"Fundraisers understand that public trust and confidence is crucial," he said. "The beauty of self-regulation is that it can develop over time and respond as the environment changes."

Pointing to a Sunday Telegraph investigation that found evidence of street fundraisers deliberately trying to mislead the public, and a survey by the Local Government Association that found 81 per cent of its members received complaints about face-to-face, Elphicke asked: "Do you accept there is a problem?"

"We are not complacent," said Lewis in response. "Directors of fundraising are aware of the concerns. The institute brought them together for a summit and now we have task groups looking at strengthening the code and the framework for training face-to-face fundraisers."

Face-to-face fundraising makes £130m for good causes, he said: "We have to have a balance between charities’ right to ask and maintaining public trust and confidence."

In response to concerns that street fundraisers were damaging town centres, De la Bedoyere said: "Harassment and standing within three metres of shop doorways are against the IoF’s Code of Fundraising Practice.

"What we do is go out and mystery shop these rules. There is a system of penalties and sanctions that has financial implications for the agencies and charities.

"So we take it enormously seriously. Our work with the LGA and the Association of Town Centre Managers is a deliberate proactive stance to engage and look at some of these issues."

McLean said the FRSB’s investigation into Tag Campaigns, the fundraising agency at the centre of the Sunday Telegraph’s allegations, would be published next week.

Bernard Jenkin, chair of the committee and the Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex, said: "None of your organisations have particularly high brand recognition, so you are probably not getting all the complaints that reflect how people feel. Is there not a role for the Charity Commission to act as a conduit for complaints about fundraising?"

McLean said it was in discussions with the commission about raising the FRSB’s profile. This included the possibility of having the FRSB tick logo and its member charities listed on the commission’s website.

As the public-facing self-regulatory body, we do need the support of the commission and the umbrella bodies to build awareness," he said.

The bodies said they had responded to Lord Hodgson’s recommendation that there was a need to address the "confused self-regulatory landscape" of fundraising.

Earlier in the session, Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, had set out their opposing views of the recommendation made by Lord Hodgson in his review of the Charities Act 2006 that charities with annual incomes of more than £1m should be able to pay their trustees without Charity Commission consent.

Jenkin said: "Payment of trustees seems like a bit of a hornets nest, which Lord Hodgson has nudged. Do we kick it into a frenzy by supporting this recommendation?"

Bubb, who supports the recommendation, said it was a tortuous process to get the Charity Commission to agree to a charity paying a trustee. It would increase diversity and improve the professionalism of boards, he said.

Etherington disagreed and said he thought it would be damaging to public perception and trust.

"The voluntary principle goes to the heart of charities and it is the wrong time to introduce measures of this kind," he said. "The existing procedure to pay trustees is not as tortuous and onerous as Stephen is suggesting."

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