New fundraising regulation regime will take sector views into account, summit hears

The NCVO's fundraising summit, held today, heard from charities minister Rob Wilson, Sir Stuart Etherington and Lord Grade, interim chair of the new Fundraising Regulator

Sir Stuart Etherington addresses the summit
Sir Stuart Etherington addresses the summit

The main speakers at today’s fundraising summit sought to reassure charities that the development of the Fundraising Preference Service would take sector views into account.

It was made it clear at the summit, hosted by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, that the FPS would be going ahead in accordance with the recommendations made by Sir Stuart Etherington in his review of the self-regulation of fundraising.

But the speakers, who included Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, Etherington and Lord Grade, interim chair of the new Fundraising Regulator, all indicated that they were willing to consider a more nuanced approach as well as a "reset button", which would prevent all telephone or direct mail contact from charities.

George Kidd, chair of the Direct Marketing Commission, was also unveiled as the chair of the working group that will consider how the FPS will work.

Wilson said: "I know some of you are worried about the FPS and the impact you think it will have on the work that you do with your beneficiaries."

He said some of the predictions made about the negative effects of the FPS had been "crude" and urged the sector to "calm down".

"I have every confidence this can be made to work for everyone – charities, the public and beneficiaries alike," he said.

"I’ve no problem with a system that, in addition to being a simple reset button, allows the public to make a more nuanced and informed choice."

Wilson said that the working group that was developing the FPS should consider exemptions for small charities that did not engage heavily in fundraising by telephone or direct mail.

He said: "I do not envisage the FPS becoming the default way in which the public interacts with charities and manages the communication they receive. It is your responsibility to ensure people never want to use the FPS in the first place because they value the interaction they have with you."

Opening the summit, Etherington acknowledged that his report had left the recommendation of the FPS broad enough to allow for nuance in its implementation.

Kidd, appointed just 24 hours before taking to the podium at the meeting in London today, said his preference would be for the FPS to run on an "opt-out" basis, whereby people would be registered with the service only when they decided they wanted to block calls, rather than being automatically registered and choosing to accept calls.

But he said that if complaints demonstrated that an opt-out system would not work, the alternative would be an opt-in system, under which charities would be able to contact only those people who had specifically permitted it.

Kidd said he was also aware of the need for existing relationships between charities and potential donors to be taken into account.

He said the FPS would be going ahead and the development process would focus on the details.

Grade pointed to his own experience of being regulated in senior roles at the BBC and ITV. He said he understood how "ignorant" and "out of touch" regulators could seem, and vowed to ask for views across the sector on setting up the fundraising regulator.

"We solemnly undertake to give you confidence that even if you don’t agree with our decision, you will have been heard," he said. "We can see this from your point of view."

He said the regulator and the FPS would be developed "at the right pace" and would be "listening very, very carefully" to avoid "unintended consequences".

Grade said the process of choosing a chief executive for the regulator was his first priority, and the process was already under way. He said he expected the post to have been filled by Christmas.

He said the appointment would not be an open application process because it took too long and would be costly.

Wilson had earlier told the meeting that the sector had been extremely close to having statutory regulation imposed on it during the summer. He said it had been "on a knife edge", but he had resisted it.

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