Charities must face up to the public view of fundraising, Lord Hodgson tells NCVO conference

The peer, who is heading a review of the lobbying act, says it is important that charities understand there is a problem

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

The charity sector must face up to the problem of the public perception of fundraising tactics, according to the Conservative peer Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts.

Hodgson was speaking at a campaigning conference run by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in central London yesterday, at which he also gave an update on his ongoing review of the lobbying act.

The issue on fundraising, he said, was "getting the right balance between the charities’ right to ask and the public’s right not to be hassled".

He said: "It is really important that the sector understands there is a problem here."

He said he had been very disappointed when conducting his review of the 2006 charities act, the report of which was published in 2012, to find that on fundraising "frankly the sector didn’t seem to think there was a problem – or, if it did, it wasn’t their business. The chuggers blame the door-to-door people, the door-to-door people blame the direct mail people.

"The reality is that the sector is as strong as its weakest link and it is up to all of us to make sure that our collective reputation is high."

The sector had faced unfair criticisms over fundraising, he said, but there was "always a grain of truth".

Hodgson is carrying out a review of third-party campaigning and how part two of the lobbying act, which tightened the spending rules for particular "regulated activities" by charities and other groups in pre-election periods, had affected charities before the general election in May.

He said much of the consultation work had been done, and he and his team would now begin drafting its report, with a view to publishing it at the end of the year.

Hodgson said that in his view the overall purpose of the legislation should be "to maintain the rich diversity of public participation and involvement that historically has characterised British elections, while not jeopardising British trust and confidence in the integrity of the electoral system".

But he outlined several questions thrown up by the review, such as whether those on the register should have to state what they were campaigning for, how much they were planning to spend and whether they were working in partnership with other bodies – but he had not yet drawn any final conclusions.

Organisations must register with the Electoral Commission as "non-party campaigners" if they intend to spend money campaigning before an election and the money could reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure the electoral success of a party, parties or candidates.

"The key controversy is that test – that the expenditure could reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure a particular result," Hodgson said.

Although Hodgson said he had not read the report published last week by the Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement, he said he was considering whether the words "reasonably regarded" could be removed to refocus on whether an organisation actually intended to influence to the result, as had been suggested by Lord Harries of Pentregarth, who chaired the commission.

Hodgson also highlighted the need to ensure the legislation was equipped to deal with the social media age, with 58 per cent of the adult population now using social networks, according to Ipsos Mori.

"If you are registered as a campaigning organisation, should there be a requirement to mention that?" he said.

"Should it be on your website that you are registered under the act? What about the impermanent stuff, the tweets? How do you measure reach?

"These are immensely powerful, influential issues, something we don’t know how to measure – but undoubtedly something as a society we need to be thinking about when we come to consider the integrity of our electoral system."

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