Self-regulation of fundraising isn't working, says NCVO's Sir Stuart Etherington

The umbrella body's chief executive tells his organisation's conference that this has become a pressing issue, and the Institute of Fundraising should consider relinquishing control over the fundraising code

Sir Stuart Etherington
Sir Stuart Etherington

The self-regulation of funding is "not working in its current form" and the Institute of Fundraising should consider relinquishing control of the Code of Fundraising Practice, Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations has said.

Speaking last night in London at the umbrella body’s annual dinner in London, Etherington said his speech would normally be light-hearted and jokey, but he had chosen on this occasion to discuss "a pressing issue and one that interests us all, which is the self-regulation of the fundraising".

Fundraising has been the subject of national media attention since the death of the 92-year-old poppy seller Olive Cooke. It has been suggested by several news outlets that the pressure of aggressive fundraising tactics led to Cooke’s death, although her family has said this was not the case. An inquest into her death has been adjourned until next month.

Etherington said there was "no doubt in my mind that there is clear public concern over fundraising that deserves to be taken seriously. We cannot write it off as some have sought to do."

He said he believed the existing fundraising self-regulation bodies – the Fundraising Standards Board, the IoF and the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association – were potentially capable of administering self-regulation successfully, but this was not happening.

Etherington said: "Let me be clear: self-regulation is not working in its current form. A conspicuous issue in the current set-up lies with the Institute of Fundraising’s dual identity, being both the champion of fundraisers and a body with a key role in regulating fundraisers, in that it sets the code which the Fundraising Standards Board adjudicates against."

Etherington suggested two options for the IoF to consider: either that it should "divest itself of its role in setting the code", or that it should "dramatically overhaul the governance of the code such that it befits a self-regulatory body rather than a trade association". He said the first option might be the more pragmatic one and would create "a clear and comprehensible division between regulator and champion".

He said the FRSB should be bolstered in terms of its operational capacity, abandon its membership model and adjudicate on the whole voluntary sector’s fundraising activities.

Peter Lewis, chief executive of the IoF, responded to Etherington’s speech in a comment posted on the institute’s website.

He said it was "a surprise that Sir Stuart chose to focus on the structure of the self-regulation of fundraising" and the IoF was "already taking quick action to address public concerns", including through the appointment of an independent chair for its standards committee, an already-published review of the code and the creation of task groups to look at more complex issues.

Lewis said: "If Sir Stuart really wants to improve the self-regulatory system, he should throw NCVO’s weight behind it, encourage NCVO’s members and charities of all shapes and sizes to contribute to the review and through that strengthen both the code and compliance with it.

"The politicos will politic, the chatterati can chat, the media may opine, the knights will joust, but here at the institute we have been rapidly taking forward what will really make a difference to the public’s trust and confidence in fundraising – strengthening the code and setting up a new compliance regime."

The FRSB and the PFRA did not respond to requests for comment.

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