Lord Harris of Haringey: Good regulation can drive trust in charities

The chair of the Fundraising Regulator says charities must work with his organisation and with each other to rebuild public trust in the sector

Lord Harris of Haringey
Lord Harris of Haringey

As a nation, we have a long and rich history of generosity when it comes to giving to charity. It’s in our nature. We know people give to charities for lots of reasons: it is rewarding, they might have been affected personally by an issue, they value the work charities do they’re simply fortunate enough to have the money to do so. But underpinning all of these reasons is trust. People give to charity when they trust that their donations are going to be put to good use.

In the past 12 months, more than two-thirds of the British public donated to charities and a quarter of people made regular donations. This is an impressive figure, but it is not immune to fluctuations based on public trust in charities. In the wake of a recent charity scandal, more than 1,000 people cancelled their regular donations to the charity in question. This shows the damaging and immediate effect broken confidence can have on a charity’s fundraising income.

At the Fundraising Regulator, we wanted to understand more about people’s attitudes towards fundraisers and how they can drive donating behaviour, which is why we commissioned our latest research report, The Role of the Fundraising Regulator: Public Awareness, Trust and Expectations.

As anticipated, our findings show that there is a direct link between public trust in fundraisers and their donating behaviour, with 83 per cent of people who trust fundraisers being donors, compared with only 63 per cent of those who don’t trust fundraisers. Importantly, members of the public who took part in our research also pointed to regulation as a key component when it comes to trust. Ninety-one per cent of respondents said they considered our role, as the Fundraising Regulator, to be important, although they might not have heard of us directly. Six in 10 people reported higher trust in fundraisers once they were made aware of the Code of Fundraising Practice.

Eighty per cent of the respondents agreed it was important for fundraisers to display the Fundraising Regulator’s logo on their fundraising materials, substantiating the important role regulation plays in building trust between fundraisers and the public.

These findings offer us an opportunity to discuss and reflect on the ways we can improve trust in the sector, together. Self-regulation is effective only when there is collaboration and transparent dialogue to ensure everybody in the sector holds each other to account and adheres to high standards that will ultimately improve the donor experience – and, in turn, trust.

We recently received a complaint from someone who felt overwhelmed by the volume of communications they were receiving as an active donor registered with multiple charities. This reminds us how the collective action of charities can damage trust and the donor relationship unintentionally even if it is very hard for charities to know who else their donors support.

One way we are tackling these kinds of complaints is through the Fundraising Preference Service, which allows people to manage the direct marketing they receive from charities and opt out if they wish. It helps to manage public faith in charity marketing, but we must also encourage transparency and dialogue between charities to ensure no one is left feeling overwhelmed. This underlines the importance and necessity of working together, and shows what can go wrong when we don’t.

Looking forward, we remain committed to regulating in a way that supports and encourages improvement in fundraising practice, while identifying behaviours and activities that undermine trust and could have an impact on people’s donating behaviour.

I believe that self-regulation and collaborative working set us on the path that will help us to achieve this. When we work together, regulation is not scary and has far-reaching benefits for all, including higher levels of public trust.

Lord Harris of Haringey is chair of the Fundraising Regulator

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