In the new world order of fundraising the roles of the sector bodies have changed

The sector must build on the pivotal events of last year for the better, argues Joe Saxton

Joe Saxton
Joe Saxton

If, a generation from now, somebody were to write a history of the charity sector, my guess is that 2015 would be seen as a pivotal year, our sector's equivalent of 1603, 1815, 1914 or 1989. Last year was our annus horribilis. Many of the sector's endemic problems were exposed: poor fundraising practices, our treatment of donors, our inability to respond to the barrage of criticism and our lack of strategy for the sector and where it's going.

Two organisations will be affected by the events of this year more than most: the Institute of Fundraising and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

In this brave new world the institute will need to find a new role. For years, it has been the fierce custodian of the code that drove fundraising self-regulation. Only in the summer, it told the minister that changes to the code were not up to him. It took it more than a year to decide that if somebody said "no cold calling" on their front door, that meant charities too. It's hard for me not to conclude that if the institute in recent years had moved firmly and irrevocably towards a code that listened more to donors and less to fundraisers, some of this mess could have been avoided.

The institute needs to decide on its new role. After the Etherington review, it shows all the signs of indecision. The best new role for the institute would be as the champion of fundraisers and fundraising. Goodness knows, there are so many threats at the moment. It should remind people that they can be proud to be fundraisers. No longer constrained by the need to balance the demands of fundraising and self-regulation, it should oppose the planned Fundraising Preference Service and speak for the 98 per cent of fundraisers who don't like it.

The other organisation whose role has changed is the NCVO. The fundraising review has well and truly set the cat among the fundraising pigeons. The vast majority of fundraisers are horrified by the proposal for a Fundraising Preference Service and the cut in income it might well bring.

Perhaps the most interesting nugget to come out of the fundraising summit in early December was when one of the architects of the new world order berated a charity bigwig afterwards, saying that "fundraisers need to stop moaning and get in line". I am sure many government ministers have felt exactly the same thing.

The NCVO's role will change because its chief executive has proposed something charities don't like, rather than leading the charge against it. This is so different from its role in the lobbying act or the Give it Back, George campaign. The NCVO clearly doesn't like being on the receiving end of charity anger, and it is going to be harder for it to gain the support of fundraisers in the future. I suspect its argument is that it has saved us from something much worse (a charity preference service, allowing people to opt out of all communications, not just fundraising, was apparently mooted).

When that history is written, it might say 2015 was the year in which charities finally began to tackle some of the systemic problems of the 21st century. The historians might also say that the sector's own plans did something not even the worst recession in a century could do: reduce public generosity by 20 per cent or more. We must build on the pivotal events of last year - for the better.

Joe Saxton is the founder and driver of ideas at the research consultancy nfpSynergy.

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