INSTITUTE OF FUNDRAISING: Self-regulation does not need new charity statute

Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising

Today is the state opening of Parliament. What on earth has that got to do with fundraising? Well, we will find out if the proposed charity bill is in the Queen's speech. If it is, then the uncertainty will be removed and the process of implementing the various recommendations from the strategy unit report starts its two-year journey. If it is not included, it does not mean the bill won't happen, but the chances are lessened.

One of the recommendations is already being planned and should come into force next year. I refer to the establishment of a self-regulation scheme for fundraising. The Buse Commission is now at the end of its first stage and is looking at the responses to the first consultation paper. The next step is for Buse to spell out how he sees self-regulation working.

In outline, this is how I see it. We will end up with a two-level organisation.

One body will set out the standards to members, and we strongly recommend that these are the Codes of Fundraising Practice. The second body will have a set of principles against which it adjudicates complaints. If a complaint is upheld then the standards might need to be altered and the membership status of the offending fundraising body examined.

There are more detailed questions remaining, such as the link between the regulator and self-regulation, how any logo might work, and the detail of who and what makes up the complaints body.

But what does all this mean for a fundraiser? It means that, after considerable marketing of the scheme, your organisation needs to take a clear decision.

Do you join or remain outside? If the marketing achieves its aims then this is a decision not for the fundraiser, but for trustees. Trustees have a duty to follow best practice. Once organisations like the Charity Commission are recognising the benefits of self-regulation and endorsing this approach, then more trustees need to take a closer interest in the realities of fundraising.

Strategic buy-in

Currently, fundraisers make these decisions, whereas in the future the strategic buy-in will need to be with the trustees. This gives fundraising departments a real opportunity to engage their leadership with the realities of fundraising in their organisation.

It also means that you will need to put into place the internal processes to help ensure you are complying with best practice - some kind of fundraising best-practice audit for the organisation. This makes a great deal of sense when you consider risk assessments. Many trustee boards have now woken up to the need to carry out risk assessments for their organisations but still struggle with how to do them.

Fundraising is a key area of risk, both from a reputation perspective and risk from a reliability of income aspect. By engaging with the best practice standards there is a very real opportunity to put into place procedures that reduce this risk. In the same way as the standards are written to be supportive and helpful, as well as prescriptive, we intend to produce helpful signposts that lead an organisation's leadership through these steps.

It also means that the best practice standards mean something to you and have a very clear and tangible value. All member organisations will be required to carry some form of logo that promotes their commitment to best practice to their donors and supporters.

If this scheme is made to work then those most committed supporters and volunteers will be expecting your organisation to sign up to best practice.

The failure to take part in the scheme or the lack of a logo should raise all sorts of questions about that organisation. There may be reasons, but the fact questions are raised is a powerful tool in itself.

Self-regulation will never address the issue of fraud. That is just one reason why the links between regulation and self-regulation need to be clear and close. However, this scheme will promote higher standards across fundraising in a supportive and enabling culture. It will also have a massively strategic benefit of finally creating a way to engage trustees and chief executives in understanding and supporting fundraising. The voluntary sector is full of examples of organisations that achieve just this, raising more money and making a greater difference to their cause.

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