QUEEN'S SPEECH: CHARITIES BILL: Analysis - Face-to-face fundraising could be a controversial part of the Bill

Stephen Cook

A front-page splash in The Times on the day of the Queen's Speech was the last thing the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association needed, since it works with the Home Office and others towards evolutionary improvements in the practice of face-to-face fundraising.

The Times stated the Charities Bill would introduce tough new legal curbs on street fundraising, criticised 'chuggers' for failing to tell the public they were paid, and questioned how successful such fundraising really is.

The looming question is whether this article, combined with a follow-up in the Evening Standard and a critical story on BBC Radio 4's Moneybox in October, will translate into hard opposition during the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and consideration by MPs.

For the moment, however, the stated position of all concerned, including the Home Office, is that the Bill will iron out licensing inconsistencies, which are the subject of a consultation that ended yesterday, and take reserve powers to regulate how face-to-face fundraisers behave.

But the intention remains, in the words of the Home Office's response in July to the Strategy Unit report - the springboard for the new Bill - "that self-regulation should be the first resort in improving fundraising standards and practices". The Buse Commission is working on a new voluntary regulation system.

The PFRA says that about one in 12 people who stop and talk to a street fundraiser sign up, and that for many charities this type of fundraising has started to reverse the steady decline in revenue from other public fundraising.

"There were nearly 700,000 people who signed direct debits through street fundraising last year, and only 1,500 recorded complaints, which amounts to a tiny percentage of interactions," says Sue Brumpton, director of the PFRA. "Our mystery shopping shows that 99 per cent of fundraisers are very polite."

But this doesn't necessarily mean that people aren't irritated, especially in locations where multiple teams work day after day. The Home Office repeatedly mentions concerns over public nuisance, and market research company Mintel said this year that face-to-face "is reported by some charities as eliciting considerable annoyance, as well as notable attrition rates."

The Times story also claimed that one survey showed that people were opposed by a margin of five-to-one to being solicited for donations by face-to-face fundraisers.

Brumpton, though, argues that there should be less "irresponsible journalism" and a public education programme about the modern fundraising needs of charities.

Other measures which might help are a new licensing system which spreads the load across more locations, and a rule that fundraisers should tell people they're paid professionals at the start of the conversation, rather than waiting until they sign up.

See Editorial, page 17.

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