Public concerns following the tragic death of Olive Cooke, the Prime Minister’s personal intervention and the ensuing exposure of poor fundraising practices in the media, has meant that fundraising practices, and the self-regulatory system that governs them, have been under scrutiny like never before.
And while the Institute of Fundraising has been consistently clear that the vast majority of fundraising practice is undertaken to a very high standard, we also acknowledge that we have to raise standards and do more to make sure those standards are met.
A recent article on thirdsector.co.uk by Stephen Lee, a lecturer in voluntary sector management at Cass Business School, made a number of criticisms of the institute, its responsiveness to its members and its stewardship of the Code of Fundraising Practice. I would like to take this opportunity to reply to the points he raises.
I, like fundraisers all across the UK, am rightly proud of the professionalism and care that goes hand in hand with the code. It was one of the first things the pioneers of our sector discussed at their first meeting over 32 years ago. The high standards it asks of fundraisers enables us today to generate £19 billion for the vital causes we’re dedicated to, here in the UK and abroad. Fundraisers are right to be proud of their contribution in creating a better world.
Since Lord Hodgson’s review of our sector in 2012, the IoF’s standards committee has transformed what were 28 individual codes into a single online code which received over 50,000 visits last year. It has been strengthened five times over the last two years, and more recently has developed guidance on fundraising with people in vulnerable circumstances, called Treating Donors Fairly. This was recently launched by the Minister for Civil Society and warmly welcomed by Dame Ester Rantzen. Further strengthening of the code will be announced later this week, based on a wide engagement and involvement of our members.
But let me be crystal clear: although one of the lessons of the last few months is that we need to better understand underlying public concerns, a more fundamental lesson is that we need to ensure better compliance with the code. It’s the underlying principle that holds the answer to rebuilding and retaining the trust of the public. And this is where our strategic partnership, and potential merger, with the Public Fundraising Association should bear most fruit moving forward.
In contrast to Stephen Lee’s views about whether views of our members are fully considered, I would like to state unequivocally that individual and organisational members are fundamental to our work. Whether that’s the modernising of our governance structures, exploring chartered status, setting the code or indeed how we approach self-regulation, our members are critical in every decision we take.
And one view that has consistently been expressed over the last three years by our members is for a universal and fairer system of self-regulation where every fundraising charity has to comply with the code. They are in no doubt; the system cannot succeed while it remains a matter of choice as to whether you sign up to regulation. Furthermore, consensus demands stronger sanctions against breaches of the code. We are still advocating those positions today.
In our most recent member survey which informed our responses to both Sir Stuart Etherington’s review of fundraising regulation and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee inquiry, the vast majority of our members were clear that they would like the institute, as their professional body, to retain ownership of the code. That is because our members understand the importance that fundraising expertise plays in setting it. And the recent appointment of an independent chair and the recruitment of lay members to the standards committee ensures the public has its views reflected in standard-setting.
In the same survey our members were also clear that, moving forward, they would like to see a single regulatory body, funded by a levy, with stronger powers to investigate, adjudicate against and sanction any fundraising organisation in the UK.
We have consistently argued that every fundraising charity should have to comply with the code, and one way this can be achieved, as Stephen Lee set out, is a stronger link to the Charity Commission. That was how I put it when asked by the Sunday Times last week, though it wasn’t quite how it was reported in the paper.
We look forward to working closely with the government, partners and our members on the outcomes of Sir Stuart’s review, to achieve as much as we can for our supporters and beneficiaries.
Our vision of excellent fundraising for a better world means continuing to protect the generosity of the British public and continuing to support the incredible work of the thousands of fundraisers and charities we represent.