Putting the 'self' in self-regulation

The Fundraising Standards Board excludes practitioners in order to reassure the public.

Right from the start, the Fundraising Standards Board has claimed to be a self-regulatory membership organisation. But as the FSB feels its way forward, senior voluntary sector figures have questioned how accurate a description that really is.

Is it legitimate, they ask, for the FSB to describe itself as a self-regulatory organisation when it excludes fundraisers from making decisions on public complaints about fundraising?

Others believe that charities could join the scheme without being aware that its constitution prevents them from voting on decisions about subscription fees (Third Sector, 28 February). Clauses in the governing document also prevent paying members from voting at general meetings, including those to elect board members, and prohibit fundraisers from standing as board candidates.

"It's odd that folk with no professional knowledge should be empowered to take decisions that will affect the future of fundraising," says Adrian Sargeant, the former Bristol Business School fundraising professor, now at Indiana University. "I recognise the need for it to be at arm's length from the profession, but for there to be no professional input is bizarre."

Andrew Scadding, chief executive of the Pattaya Orphanage Trust, is equally critical. "Member charities will not be members in any meaningful sense," he warns. "They will be unable to contribute to the disciplinary debate, and will not be able to participate in constitutional matters."

The FSB's board includes two representatives of sector bodies: Mick Aldridge, chief executive of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, and Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising. Neither are fundraising practitioners.

Other members are drawn from the SCVO and the Wales Council for Voluntary Action, and there are five lay members, a representative from consumers' association Which? and a charity lawyer.

Colin Lloyd,chair of the FSB, argues that the board's distance from the fundraising profession is its strength, because public confidence will be maintained when it passes judgement on complaints. "We are following a structure approved by the Government and by the Scottish Office," he says. "They would not have approved it if they had not been satisfied."

Lloyd says the structure was established after advice from the National Consumer Council about best practice in self-regulation.

It also took into account the recommendations of the Buse Commission, which the Institute of Fundraising set up in 2003 to propose a framework and governance structure for the proposed self-regulatory scheme.

The commission initially recommended establishing an independent board to take advice on interpreting the codes of practice from an "expert advisory group of six to eight members, drawn from chief executives, trustees and practitioners".

But this recommendation did not appear in its final report. Lloyd argues that the sector bodies on the FSB's board - the PFRA and the IoF - perform that role, even though their representatives are not fundraising practitioners.

"The initial recommendation led to where we are now - we combined the two," says Lloyd. "Our sector bodies would otherwise have been on that advisory body. They are the voice of the sector.

"This consultation process took four years, and this is the first time anyone has raised a comment on its integrity and structure.The majority of our board members are lay people with enormous experience and tremendous depth."

Lloyd likens the FSB's structure to that of the Direct Marketing Association, the regulator he helped to establish in 1991.

However, James Kelly, managing director of the DMA, believes his adjudicating board - made up of three marketing practitioners and four independent members - inspires confidence because its members have hands-on experience in the profession.

"We faced a high-profile challenge recently on junk mail," he says. "Having practitioners on the board meant our members took new regulatory initiatives seriously."

Kelly cites two key benefits to having adjudicating practitioners. "They are wholly familiar with all the issues," he says. "They also bring a knowledgeable and balanced perspective, which helps when it comes to lobbying government. If government thinks it is dealing with a broad representation of an industry, it is likely to take notice of its recommendations."

But Kelly warns against conflicts of interest: "Because practitioners have a commercial interest, there is always a risk their personal agendas will come into play," he says. This, at least, is something the FSB is likely to avoid.

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