Hot Seat: Stephen Lee

The former director of the Institute of Fundraising criticised the practices of some fundraising agencies in a recent documentary, but his views have proved controversial. Susannah Birkwood reports

Stephen Lee
Stephen Lee

Stephen Lee was director of the Institute of Fundraising for 11 years until 1998 and is currently a lecturer in voluntary sector management at Cass Business School and chief executive of the charitable think tank CentreForum.

He was a key contributor to Channel 4's Dispatches documentary on telephone fundraising, broadcast on 11 August, which was critical of some of the practices at the agencies NTT Fundraising and Pell & Bales, fundraising on behalf of Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity and the RNIB respectively.

Lee criticised the agencies' practice of telling potential givers that staff were being paid only after they had made a decision to donate, saying this went against Cabinet Office guidelines. An urgent review of telephone fundraising was needed, he said.

His view has since been disputed, however. Ian MacQuillin, manager of the fundraising think tank Rogare, said on the Third Sector website: "The general guidance is that the statement must 'accompany' each solicitation for a gift, but the Cabinet Office provides no further guidance about precise timings."

Another source told Third Sector that it should have been the current IoF chief executive or chair expressing this view, rather than its leader of 15 years ago. But the IoF said no one from Dispatches asked it for comment.

Lee told Third Sector that, when looking at the Cabinet Office guidance, fundraisers needed to consider the definition given for solicitation – "to solicit in any manner, whether expressly or implicitly, and however done". He said that this and the purpose of the legislation – to provide prospective donors with relevant information at the point at which their donation is solicited – meant it was illogical not to make the solicitation statement when the donor was being asked for money.

Lee said the guidelines could be expressed more clearly. "But to use some of the ambiguity in the words in the legislation to move you away from its original purpose is disheartening," he said.

The Fundraising Standards Board said it had requested meetings with the charities and agencies featured in the programme and would conduct an investigation "if necessary". The IoF said that it had no immediate plans to carry out a review of telephone fundraising.

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