There's a time and a place for face-to-face

Local agreements increasingly limit where, when and how street fundraisers can work. Does this foster public confidence in face-to-face or does it deprive charities of potential donations? Femke Colborne finds out

Liverpool: public support for increased regulation
Liverpool: public support for increased regulation

Since the beginning of 2011, there has been a significant increase in the number of agreements regulating street fundraising in town and city centres.

"Crackdown on charity fundraisers," read the headline in the Liverpool Echo in February. "'Charity muggers' to be banned from city centre four days a week," the Manchester Evening News proclaimed the same month.

But far from being worried about the planned restrictions, many fundraisers support the increase in regulation and think they are necessary to protect the long-term future of street fundraising.

The site management agreements have been drawn up and are overseen by the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association in partnership with local authorities or town centre management companies. They generally cover where fundraisers can work, in what numbers and on which days.

Some agreements have reduced the number of sites where fundraisers can operate, although others have merely formalised existing arrangements. In April, the PFRA reported that it was in talks to establish site management agreements in 16 local authority areas in addition to the 40 already covered.

Fundraising agreements

Toby Ganley, head of policy at the PFRA, says there are three reasons why more local authorities have started to show an interest in the agreements.

First, the association has been doing more outreach work and talking to councils. Second, he says, some recent major agreements have raised the profile of such arrangements.

The third factor, according to Ganley, is that local authorities are keen to cut costs and the site management agreement services on offer from the PFRA are free. "Maybe councils are thinking about ways they can shift administrative burdens," he says.

However, some people believe growing animosity from the public has also been a factor.

Liverpool Business Improvement District, the management company responsible for Liverpool city centre, is one of the companies currently in talks with the PFRA.

Ged Gibbons, chief executive of Liverpool BID, says public opinion was a major factor behind the company's decision to approach the PFRA about setting up an agreement.

Regulation

"The public were saying it needed to be far more regulated and controlled," he says. "BBC North West Tonight did a story on it and there was a huge phone-in on BBC Radio Merseyside, where people said they felt they were being harassed and it was a form of emotional blackmail.

"Retailers were coming to us and saying that people were beginning to avoid certain sections of the city centre because it was like running the gauntlet. Times are tough, and we don't want anything to be affecting footfall in the city centre. We won't tolerate people being harangued into giving over their direct debit details."

Sue Hartley, head of direct marketing at the housing and homelessness charity Shelter, says it has started to feel the effects of the increase in site management agreements.

"We have certainly seen an impact in terms of less access to certain sites," she says. "There are some places we were fundraising 12 times a week where we can now go only eight times a week. But we don't think it has affected our income because fewer visits mean more productive visits."

Reputation

Hartley believes the agreements are necessary to protect the reputation of street fundraising. "It's about sustainability," she says. "More and more charities are looking to use face-to-face fundraising, and we have a responsibility to ensure it is regulated and agreeable to both local authorities and the public. If it continued in the way it was before, with the number of charities continuing to grow, we would soon be in a position where it was not sustainable for anyone."

Russ Peterken, operations manager at the street fundraising agency Gift Fundraising, says fundraisers generally feel positive about the agreements. "They are a rubber stamp, a seal of approval," he says. "Fundraisers working in cities where agreements have been reached have a sense of a right to be there. It is very important for fundraisers to feel that this activity is regulated, and for the public. It's a validation of what we're doing."

Whatever fundraisers think about the increase in regulation, it looks likely to continue. In January, Labour MSP George Foulkes tabled a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for tougher regulation of face-to-face fundraising. Foulkes did not stand for re-election this year, but a spokesman for the new SNP government said street fundraising regulation was "still very much on their radar".

The Scottish government will consult next year on a new scheme to regulate public fundraising, he said.

Chugging is likely to come under similar scrutiny elsewhere in the UK. "As more local authorities approach the PFRA, it will have a knock-on effect," says Peterken.

"Even areas where fundraisers have not been particularly welcome might start to approach the PFRA as a result of this. I would applaud any that do; in the long term, it can only be positive."

 See our Fundraising Extra Big Issue for related articles

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