Editorial: Time to take the profit motive out of chugger firms

Mathew Little

The loss of more than £1m belonging to a who's who of household names in the charity sector from the demise of Fruitful Fundraising casts another shadow over the already sullied public reputation of the face-to-face technique.

The full impact of the collapse has yet to be gauged, but some in the sector have hastily adopted a "business as usual" public face, claiming that Fruitful's problems are not a reflection of a wider malaise.

Such complacency is misplaced. The reputational problems of street fundraising have undoubtedly been amplified by a frenzy of negative press coverage, but it is also true that public concern about the technique is not just limited to irritation about being accosted by armies of tabard-wearing chuggers. There is also widespread concern about the use of agencies, and the cut they receive. The downfall of Fruitful will only add to that unease.

So perhaps it's time to reconsider the entrepreneurial, for-profit model that has driven the face-to-face gold rush. Fruitful is not the first agency to go out of business because of management problems. As one fundraiser has argued, do charities really want to stake their reputations in "here today and gone tomorrow" companies?

Then there is the question of transparency. It beggars belief that the situation was allowed to get so bad without charities knowing there was anything wrong. The charity sector is far from immune from bad management, but it is subject to a regulator that demands publicly available, transparent financial accounts.

For a solution, the sector should look within. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has called for a non-profit mutual to run street fundraising. That would have the dual advantage of increasing transparency and assuaging public concern about the fate of donations.

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