Editorial: It's face-to-face, not in-your-face

A new system of penalty points should reassure the public, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector
Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector

What do Grey Squirrel, Bilious Fogg and Mike Smith have in common? They're all contributors to the intense and at times barely polite debate that smoulders on at the foot of a Third Sector blog by Felicity Donor about face-to-face fundraising. The post has attracted more comment than any other on our website, and is further evidence that the subject remains among the most contentious in the sector.

An accusation from one contributor is that the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association is an inadequate regulator. In its defence, the PFRA says representatives of the Office of the Third Sector, the Charity Commission, the Institute of Licensing and the Association of Town Centre Managers sit on its board and are satisfied with its regulatory activities.

These activities consist of negotiating and policing site-management agreements, sometimes imposing sanctions on practitioners and even suspending their access to a site. The PFRA also runs 'mystery shopping programmes' to try to ensure that face-to-face fundraisers adhere to the Institute of Fundraising's codes of practice, and is developing an exclusion system for individual fundraisers who commit serious breaches of the rules.

Now, as we report on the front page, it is consulting members on introducing a system of penalty points and fines for agencies and charities that infringe the rules.

All this should help reassure the public. Will it also help to draw a line between face-to face-fundraising and in-your-face fundraising - those rare occasions when practitioners start pursuing people down the street or making sarcastic remarks? Stories of such incidents do disproportionate damage across the dinner tables of the chattering classes.

But even if such incidents are cut out altogether, the controversy is not going to disappear. Face-to-face is a Marmite thing - some people will always hate it. And it will probably continue until charities find that the results don't justify the outlay any more.

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