In the time-honoured phrase, the mountain has laboured mightily and brought forth a mouse. This seems a common response in the sector to the three-page summary published this week by the consultancy PwC of its review of the system of fundraising self-regulation.
Its most pertinent recommendation is probably the setting up of an online portal "so there is one public face, run by the Fundraising Standards Board for the regime as a whole". This attempts to address the key point in Lord Hodgson’s 2012 report about dispelling public confusion about regulation. In practice, the result could be achieved by some key changes to the current FRSB website.
The review also recommends the development of "an over-arching strategy for self-regulation of fundraising in the UK". It sounds like a straightforward project, and the FRSB, the Institute of Fundraising and the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association have already begun work on it; but the elements of competition and overlap between the three organisations suggest it won’t necessarily be easy.
Beyond that, the review says the PFRA, which sets the rules for and applies sanctions on face-to-face fundraisers, should become more aligned to the IoF and perhaps in due course become one of its departments; and it recommends a review of the financing of the three bodies that could lead to shared back-office functions.
The limited and tentative nature of the review, and the nine months it took to produce it, are perhaps understandable, given the sensitivities of the situation and the institutional desire to defend one’s own turf. It hasn’t settled some of the more difficult questions, perhaps because the bodies concerned didn’t really want it to. Ian Oakley-Smith of PwC says the key message of the review is "to simplify and act as one". This is the right goal, but will the limited prescription of the review lead to its achievement?
On one level, it’s possible to see the report as an endorsement, by and large, of the status quo: all that’s needed are a few tweaks and a bit more dialogue and incremental change. It remains to be seen whether that interpretation is enough to satisfy Hodgson, the Office for Civil Society and the wider giving public, who deserve a clearer system than exists at present.