News Analysis: Time is ticking for self-regulation

Helen Barrett

The FSB has been forced to delay its scheme because too few charities have signed up.

The Fundraising Standards Board was all set to go public on 10 October - the logos were prepared, the new Donors' Charter was drafted and the marketing agency had been recruited. Then, last week, the board announced it would delay the launch of the new self-regulation scheme for fundraising until January because not enough charities had signed up.

So why aren't charities rushing to put their names to the scheme? When Jon Scourse, director of the FSB, spoke to Third Sector last week, he blamed the delay partly on charities' reluctance to sign up to a draft version of the Donors' Charter, which includes 10 promises to donors that charities are expected to commit themselves to. Summer holidays, he said, also played a part, because trustees had not met to agree to membership and endorse the charter.

Scourse believes that at least 500 charities will need to join if the FSB's brand is to be credible. He is probably right - the scheme has a tight promotion budget of £250,000 a year, so the more household names that carry the 'tick' logo on their television adverts, websites, inserts, direct mail and posters, the sooner donors will understand that they are being promised a fair deal.

Sector support

So far, fewer than 100 fundraising organisations have joined. Of the top 10 fundraising charities, at least seven have put their names down.

Yet there is little doubt that the sector is behind the principle of self-regulation.

"Fundraisers want to demonstrate that we're not a bunch of crooks selling dodgy gear," says Mark Astarita, head of fundraising at the British Red Cross, whose organisation has yet to join. "We want to spend our donors' pounds wisely, and that is what the scheme will emphasise.

"Many charities have responded to the Donors' Charter consultation and want to take self-regulation on board sensibly, so I think we can pull this off." He says the British Red Cross will sign up as soon as the trustees are happy with the details of the revised Donors' Charter.

Scope is another charity that is about to sign on the dotted line. "We think it's a really worthwhile initiative," says a spokeswoman.

There is more encouragement for the FSB. A Third Sector survey of the top 50 fundraising charities carried out last week found that, of 22 undecided organisations, 12 said they wanted to commit in principle. Only two said they had no intention of joining.

But one source told Third Sector the reluctance of many waverers to sign up to the draft Donors' Charter derives not only from the fact that it is a draft, but also from their unhappiness with the promises it makes to donors.

Astarita agrees that the draft had problems. "It was clearly a work-in-progress," he says. "There were mistakes in it, it was difficult to understand and it concentrated on some mechanics and not others. We can't make promises we can't keep."

Another sticking point was the galloping timetable within which the FSB hoped to implement the scheme. The board's operations and logo were unveiled in April. By June, it was targeting charities with a recruitment campaign, then in July charities found themselves asked to respond to the draft Donors' Charter by September - just as staff and trustees were heading off on summer breaks.

Scourse concedes that the FSB may have tried to do too much too soon, and could have predicted the hold-up. "It probably was ambitious," he says. "But we had a 12-month delay in receiving government funding. I was appointed on 1 February to launch an effective scheme. Yes, we are delayed - but for good reasons."

Charities are understood to have other gripes about the scheme. Some have raised concerns about the FSB becoming an unwieldy, costly burden.

Others are nervous about the printing costs and brand clutter that could arise from plastering their advertising with the FSB's navy blue tick.

Scourse remains confident that he can sign up an extra 400 fundraising organisations once the final, revised version of the Donors' Charter is published on 10 October. He points out that the FSB has responded to 558 requests for information packs, which contain application forms.

"The very charities that are holding back are the ones that want to see what the Donors' Charter looks like before they sign up," he says.

He will probably succeed, but an even greater challenge could be looming.

When Third Sector contacted those top 50 fundraising charities last week to ask if they had signed up, it found that most charity press officers had not heard of the FSB. Perhaps it's not relevant at this stage, but by January charities will at least have had to explain the meaning of the tick logo to staff if the scheme is to stand a chance.

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