Former IoF director Stephen Lee wants commission on future of telephone fundraising

Lee, professor of voluntary sector management at Cass Business School, says such a commission should be led jointly by the Institute of Fundraising and the Fundraising Standards Board

Stephen Lee
Stephen Lee

Stephen Lee, a former director of the Institute of Fundraising, has called for a commission on the future of the telephone fundraising practice to be established.

Lee, professor of voluntary sector management at Cass Business School and chief executive of the charitable think tank CentreForum, told Third Sector that such a commission should be led jointly by the IoF and the Fundraising Standards Board, with representatives from charities, agencies, consumer organisations, academics and lawyers among its members.

It would review current telephone fundraising practice, look at self-regulation and the law on solicitation statements, and come up with recommendations, he said.

"We really do need to see some effective leadership from the IoF and/or the FRSB urgently if the future of telephone fundraising in this country is to be properly assured," he said. "Otherwise, what in principle is an incredibly effective relational fundraising technique will be mired by dodgy, inappropriate practice."

Lee appeared the recent Channel 4 Dispatches documentary on telephone fundraising in August, in which he criticised NTT Fundraising and Pell & Bales, the two agencies featured in the programme, for their practice of making solicitation statements – in which potential givers are told that staff are being paid – only after people have decided to donate, saying this went against Cabinet Office guidelines. An urgent review of telephone fundraising was needed, said Lee.

Commenting on the need for a commission, Alistair McLean, chief executive of the FRSB, said: "Any work that the sector could do to make sure that the highest possible standards are achieved in telephone fundraising has to be a good thing. If that means the IoF and FRSB coming together with major charities and agencies to discuss this in a symposium or another format, I’m sure this would be a positive move."

The FRSB is conducting an investigation in the wake of the Dispatches programme, which consists of holding conversations with NTT Fundraising and Pell & Bales, and charities the agencies were fundraising on behalf of in the documentary: the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity and the RNIB.

Asked to comment on Lee’s proposal, Peter Lewis, chief executive of the IoF, said the IoF’s standards committee, which sets the standards of the Code of Fundraising Practice, was in regular contact with the FRSB and IoF members, and the recent review of the self-regulation of fundraising by PwC had concluded that this was the appropriate channel for maintaining those standards.

"While trust in charities is high, and fundraising complaint rates are very low, neither the IoF nor our members are complacent," he said. "In the very few cases where there is poor practice it is important that it is brought to light and challenged so that the standards can be maintained and improved."

He said Cabinet Office guidance did not specify when a solicitation statement should be made during a telephone fundraising call so the IoF would welcome clear and simple guidance for charities in this area.

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