Editorial: Fundraising standards will benefit us all

Stephen Cook, editor

Anyone who doubts the importance of the Fundraising Standards Board should have a glance at clause 69 of the new Charities Act.

It's a tightly written passage that sets out reserve powers for ministers to implement statutory regulation of fundraising. That's what the sector is in for if it doesn't make a success of self-regulation, as represented by the FSB. For a cautionary tale, take the Telephone Preference Service, a statutory scheme imposed on an industry that failed to agree how to regulate itself, and probably now regrets that failure.

It's fair to say that the FSB hasn't made as much progress as it would have liked in persuading charities to sign up to the scheme and create the critical mass it needs for the planned launch to the public. It underestimated how long it might take some charities, with their extended decision-making processes and infrequent board meetings, to take the plunge and sign up.

Parts of the contract and the Donors' Charter also proved less acceptable than expected to some charities, and some smaller organisations are jibbing at what they see as extra work and expense if they join.

The FSB has responded by postponing the public launch from last October to the New Year and by negotiating its way through the difficulties. Its view has been that it is entering uncharted waters - this is the first such scheme in the world - and it needs to be flexible to find the right course. It has agreed to some changes to the charter, now called the Fundraising Promise, and to parts of the contract that have been seen by some as burdensome.

It needs to ensure that it preserves enough rigour in its requirements and procecures to attract public credibility, but this is surely the most sensible approach. Working with the grain is essential to the process.

The FSB is widely - and rightly - perceived as a good thing, mainly because it will spread good practice, make life harder for the occasional rogue, raise an already good level of public confidence and work to everyone's benefit in the long term. With a following wind, there's no reason why it shouldn't become as effective and durable as the Advertising Standards Authority, one of the best examples of successful self-regulation. And if a few die-hards really can't perceive the potential benefits, the potential downside of statutory regulation under clause 69 should bring them aboard.

As Hilaire Belloc wrote of Jim, who escaped his protector and was eaten by a lion: "Always keep a-hold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse."

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