Viewpoint: Rules are here to stay, so look on the bright side

Could the new requirement for fundraisers to state what they earn improve public perception and understanding of charities?

A lot of heat has been generated about the new guidance on solicitation statements, particularly over the 'notifiable amount' - the amount of remuneration the fundraiser will receive in connection with an appeal.

Has the Office of the Third Sector got the wording and advice right? It all depends on what is meant by right. The guidelines are just advice, not mandatory instruction. They are not meant to be an idiot's guide, but to point out helpfully what charities and professional fundraising organisations need to think about to comply with the law. It is the responsibility of charities to get the statements right.

The new requirements and the concept of the notifiable amount are ultimately just an amendment to existing practice - a change in content, not principle.

Both telephone and face-to-face fundraisers have been working with disclosure statements for many years. Have they killed off - or even hampered - those sectors? No. Because, ultimately, they are a good thing.

After 16 years, it's easy to forget that fundraising statements were originally introduced to promote what we now call accountability and transparency; specifically, transparency about fundraising costs. There can be few fundraisers around nowadays who would not argue that one of the keys to reversing dwindling public trust and confidence, and therefore encouraging greater giving, is to make the public finally understand that there is no such thing as cost-free fundraising, and that the essential point is not cost, but effect. These new requirements conveniently provide a perfect opportunity to do so. Who wouldn't take it?

By putting the information required by the new law in writing for donors to retain, charities can put their fundraising costs into powerful context: for every pound we invest, we'll get five back; your donations over five years could equip an entire school; the amount we spend on fundraising is no more than 10 per cent of the income we receive; and so on. And because there is actually no prescribed form of words, each charity can choose precisely how best to project its own positive achievements and vision.

To be brutally honest, I don't believe it will have much impact on donors either way. On the other hand, I truly hope it will help bring about the long-awaited sea-change in public perception and understanding. It just might.

So don't be afraid of our new friend the notifiable amount - it's here to stay. Welcome and embrace it; make it work for you. Craft your statements confidently. Be clear, and be brave. All the law asks you to do is be honestly precise, or have a reasonable stab at it. And when was dishonesty or unreasonableness ever an option anyway?

Mick Aldridge is chief executive of the Professional Fundraising Regulatory Association

5 MORE THINGS...

The Charities Act 2006 changes the law on the content of solicitation statements outlined in the 1992 act. Fundraisers must now state the 'notifiable amount' of remuneration and the method by which it is calculated.

The notifiable amount is the amount of remuneration a fundraiser will receive in connection with the appeal. If the actual amount is not known at the time the statement is made, as accurate an estimate as possible must be given.

Officers, trustees and employees of charitable organisations who act as collectors and are remunerated must now include in their solicitation statements their positions, the fact that they are being paid and which charities they are collecting for.

Those earning less than £5 a day or £500 a year or, if paid in a lump sum, less than £500, will not have to make a solicitation statement.

The Office of the Third Sector has given fundraisers until the end of May to comment on the new solicitation statement guidance. Observations will be fed into the report and a final version will be published by the summer.

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