Andy Hillier: A misstep by Lord Grade

As chair he has done well to get the Fundraising Regulator off the ground, but his comments in the media raise questions about whether he is the right person to steer the regulator through its next phase

Andy Hillier
Andy Hillier

Lord Grade, chair of the Fundraising Regulator, has been roundly criticised by the charity sector this morning for his comments in the media ahead of the launch on Thursday of the Fundraising Preference Service.

His comments, made in The Daily Telegraph today, that too many charities "are proving to be laggards" has particularly irked the fundraising community, which has been working hard to try to rebuild relationships after a difficult few years.

His interview this morning with BBC Radio 4's Today programme also displayed a lack of knowledge about how the FPS will work. During the interview, Grade gave the firm impression that the FPS would operate in manner similar to the "big red button" idea originally mooted in Sir Stuart Etherington’s review, but later replaced with a more nuanced system that will allow members of the public to specify which charities they no longer wish to hear from.

Grade’s card has already been marked by some in the fundraising community, of course. In one of his first public interviews as chair of the FR, he admitted to telling fundraisers who knocked on his door to "bugger off" and has been unequivocal throughout his tenure that the primary role of the regulator is to protect the public from unwanted fundraising and poor practices, rather than help swell the coffers of charities and promote their work.

There might now be calls behind the scenes for Grade to step aside. He was, after all, appointed only as interim chair and tasked with the role of getting the regulator off the ground.

That part of the job he has done well. The transfer of the Code of Fundraising Practice to the FR has gone better than many expected and Stephen Dunmore, chief executive of the FR, and his team have gone about creating an effective regulator in a short amount of time.

But major challenges still await and questions will be asked about whether Grade is the right person to chair the regulator through its next phase. The FR is still struggling to attract enough voluntary contributions from the sector to sustain it in the long term, and no amount of threats or cajoling from the regulator, the government or charity umbrella bodies looks set to resolve that in the short term.

More broadly there is the challenge that Grade was trying address today, that of raising awareness of the regulator and its work among the public. Grade, a media man through and through, knows that in order to make it into the national media you can’t just mouth platitudes. But using such pejorative language at time when the sector looked to be regaining its confidence will be judged as a misstep.

In many ways, Grade today achieved what he set out to do by raising the profile of the FPS among the public. It is just a shame that a lack of attention to detail and his choice of words has led to him coming unstuck in the eyes of the sector. 

Andy Hillier is editor of Third Sector

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