Editorial: If the sector wants to increase trust, more charities must join the FRSB

When the sector think tank nfpSynergy published research in March this year indicating that trust in charities was at a low ebb, elements of the fundraising community were among those decrying it. Charities were still a lot more popular than the royal family and the church, said some. Who wants yesterday's news, according to others, who focused on the fact that the survey was carried out last July.

One part of the fundraising community that evidently does take the report seriously is the Fundraising Standards Board. In its review of its first year of operation, published last week, it puts the report at the top of its list of evidence that the relationship between charities and the public - a relationship often embodied in the fundraising process - is not what it could be.

This confirms the open secret that the FRSB does not have wholesale support from fundraisers. From the start, many fundraisers have thought it unnecessary, some on the grounds that there is no real evidence of substantial public dissatisfaction, others because they seem to think that an element of public discontent may be a small price to pay to secure income for a good cause. The fact that fundraisers are not at one over the need for regulation makes the task of the FRSB particularly difficult.

This in turn helps to explain why the FRSB review is short on factual information and long on material designed to get charities and fundraising organisations on side. In the attempt to recruit more members, it has already tied itself to a system in which all details of complaints are kept confidential unless they reach the third stage of the process. So we do hear that only one complaint - the well-chewed-over case of Cancer Research UK and the 11 pens it sent to one recipient - reached that stage. We also hear that, during the year to February, 8,434 complaints about the FRSB's 826 member organisations were dealt with by charities themselves, and a breakdown is given on the subject of complaints, with direct mail leading the field. Beyond that, there's very little: the report doesn't say how many were upheld, or how many reached the second stage of the process, at which the FRSB gets involved but doesn't actually make an adjudication (anyone who enquires is told that number is four). Nor is there any detail about intriguing snippets such as "confusion around permission wording on general lifestyle surveys and how this can lead to an individual registered with the Telephone Preference Service receiving unwanted calls".

What we get plenty of is pictures of pretty women and children, and a lifeboat crashing through the waves, interlaced with feelgood quotations from members large and small about the beneficial effects of joining the FRSB. This is essentially a recruiting document - and for good reason, judging by the rather two-edged welcome to the review from third sector minister Phil Hope. He says: "Many more organisations will need to join in the coming year to convince us that the sector has the will to fully embrace self-regulation and make it work." This is possibly the clearest wake-up call yet to the sector: you could end up with statutory regulation, with all its disbenefits, unless you set aside any quibbles you may have about the FRSB and join up now. It's got to be a good investment.

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