INSTITUTE OF FUNDRAISING: The law must be the start to ensuring best practice

BENJAMIN JAMES, a solicitor specialising in charity and intellectual property law at Bircham Dyson Bell

I read with interest Lindsay Boswell's article on this page that "The law is never enough to ensure best practice

(Third Sector, 7 August).

I agree that all organisations should always strive to achieve the best that they can on all levels.

However, it is always important that you use the law as a base. If you do not get the underlying law right, you will not be able to achieve best practice. Unfortunately, charities are often put off by the cost of obtaining legal advice before starting a new venture or breaking into a new fundraising programme. The result can sometimes be a much larger legal bill to deal with the problems that arise from not setting up the programme with advice at the start.

This is why Bircham Dyson Bell and the Institute of Fundraising have been working together to increase the availability of legal advice to the Institute's members through the launch of the Legal Helpline. Members can call Bircham Dyson Bell and are entitled to free legal advice. The advice is limited to matters affecting the charity that they work for, providing it is not necessary for us to review papers. It is also run on the understanding that the firm bears no liability for the advice given by phone.

In the seven months that the helpline has been running, we have answered a large number of calls and found a number of recurring themes. The most common of which are: data protection; street and house-to-house collections; and commercial participation.

These issues are all compliance related and the rules regarding data protection and collections are some of the most complicated in existence.

It is easier to understand how to dispose of hazardous waste than to work out how to collect money on the street in five different council areas in England. This is why both the Institute's Codes of Practice and simple access to legal advice can make such a difference for those striving to achieve and understand compliance and is another step on the road to the best practice to which Lindsay Boswell has previously referred.

If members have any issues that they would like to discuss, please call the helpline on 020 7170 0345.

- The Institute of Fundraising is the professional body for fundraisers promoting the highest standards in fundraising.

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