Fundraising regulation should be as "light-touch" as possible and making membership of the Fundraising Standards Board mandatory would not improve public trust and confidence in the sector, the Minister for Civil Society has said.
In an interview with Third Sector, Rob Wilson said that forcing charities become members of the FRSB would be unlikely to allay the public’s concerns about the sector, because a number of organisations that were already members had breached the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice, the set of rules that members are supposed to abide by.
Earlier this month, the Labour peers Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town and Lord Watson of Invergowrie tabled amendments to the new charities bill that would force all fundraising charities to become members of the FRSB.
Both Alistair McLean, chief executive of the FRSB, and Peter Lewis, chief executive of the IoF, believe that membership should be compulsory for charities that raise more than £1m a year.
But Wilson said: "I’m not sure it’s the answer because charities that were already members have been found to be breaking the rules, not directly but indirectly, through the people who were providing fundraising services on their behalf."
He said that regulation of the sector needed to be "as light-touch as it possibly can be. I don’t think you necessarily need more regulation; you just need better regulation."
Asked if he thought the FRSB needed to introduce stronger sanctions to deter detrimental fundraising practices, something that was called for in a blog by Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, yesterday, Wilson said: "They are very welcome to talk to me about anything they wish to propose."
Wilson said that when public concern about the issues raised by the death of the poppy seller Olive Cooke first became apparent, the regulators were "a bit slow to understand".
He said: "They are beginning to stir into life, but they’ve got a lot further to go."
Asked what he discussed with McLean, Lewis and Peter Hills-Jones, chief executive of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, when he met them at the Cabinet Office earlier this month, Wilson said: "I set out some of the actions they might want to take to amplify public confidence. We’re still in a period where I want to see their reaction, and until that is expired it is probably best if I say as little as possible. I’m happy to talk to them privately, but don’t want to make any public demands."
He said that the structure of fundraising regulation should be simplified because it was quite complicated and the public did not understand how it operated, but it was not yet time to direct anybody to make any changes.
Wilson said he welcomed the IoF’s decision to forbid doorstep fundraisers from approaching properties displaying no-cold-calling signs.
Asked if his own campaigners had knocked on doors displaying these signs when campaigning for him during the election, he said: "Political campaigners take their lives in their own hands when they knock on a door with a sign displayed. I wouldn’t advise them to do that."
Wilson was also asked for his opinion on the proposal for charities to pay a fee to fund the work of the Charity Commission, something mooted in the commission’s report Trust and Confidence in the Charity Commission, published yesterday.
He said he had not received any proposals from the commission about its funding but this was a subject it should look at and seriously consider.
In his keynote speech before Third Sector’s interview, during which he launched the Local Sustainability Fund, Wilson was asked by Dan Corry, chief executive of the think tank New Philanthropy Capital, if there was any truth in the rumours that the Office for Civil Society might be axed.
Wilson said: "The OCS still has a huge amount to contribute and we will be continuing to do that for a long time."
He reiterated the government’s commitment to the election pledge that employees of large companies should get up to three days of leave to volunteer. Some, including the Daily Mail journalist Andrew Pierce, have said they doubt this will happen.
But Wilson said the idea was the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.