Editorial: Grasp the nettle and make the 'tick' work

Stephen Cook, editor

If you prised open the mouth of the new Fundraising Standards Board and shone a light inside, you wouldn't find much in the way of teeth.

A couple of white buttons gleaming at the back, maybe, that may or may not grow into something more formidable in due course. Does this matter?

Probably not too much at this stage, although in due course it might.

The vital thing now is for everyone to pile on board so the new self-regulatory scheme rapidly acquires wide participation and critical mass.

This will help establish its credibility, which in turn will give it a firmer basis for deciding what kind of sanctions it should develop and apply. So charities and fundraising agencies should check out the cost of joining, reach into their pockets, dust off their copies of the Institute of Fundraising codes of practice and acquire the right to display the elegantly designed tick symbol. The potential benefits are cheap at the price.

What are the arguments against joining? The first is the routinely repeated assertion that there's nothing broke, so don't fix it. But it's an assertion that needs some examination. Where is the evidence that the public is broadly satisfied with the behaviour of the fundraising industry? It's actually hard to find any. The best the Strategy Unit report could come up with in 2002 was that "levels of trust in the sector are generally high, but concerns about fundraising practice may be eroding public confidence".

It quoted a 1998 NCVO report that established dissatisfaction about intrusive methods, manipulative content and too many appeals.

The second argument against joining is that establishing a scheme and a 'kitemark' could plant the thought in the mind of an otherwise satisfied public that something is amiss, and that the result will be a surge of spurious complaints.

The answer to this, surely, is to put it to the test. The level and types of complaint will help fill the information vacuum mentioned above and assist the evolution of the FSB's methods and sanctions. This makes for an informed debate. There's no substitute for grasping the nettle.

There are huge potential benefits if the scheme is successful. If it's built up and communicated successfully, a time could come when the cowboys are put out of business because people will only give if they see the tick mark. And charities would know more about practices that alienate donors and have an effective mechanism to curtail them.

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