Matthew Sherrington: The regulator rains on fundraisers' parade, but the future's bright

The sector is badly served by the respective chairs of the Fundraising Regulator and the Charity Commission, writes our columnist

Matthew Sherrington
Matthew Sherrington

Last week was a big week in fundraising, with the Institute of Fundraising’s convention showcasing the best of fundraising; the launch of the Fundraising Preference Service by the Fundraising Regulator, which will allow individuals to nominate charities they don’t want to hear from; and the launch of the report from the Commission on the Donor Experience, which looks to the future.

Almost predictably (it was two years ago that the Daily Mail went personal on senior fundraising directors in the middle of the convention), Lord Grade, chair of the Fundraising Regulator, punctured the up-beat mood, taking to the Telegraph and Radio 4 to tell fundraisers what he thinks of them. Just his latest outburst of disdain towards the sector he’s responsible for regulating, but has no interest in understanding.

Lord Grade also got the facts wrong on the very FPS he was promoting, requiring the Fundraising Regulator to issue "corrections" to what he’d said. "Saddened and frustrated," was the IoF’s measured response. Which doesn’t begin to express how "cross" fundraisers are, said the in-coming IoF chair, Amanda Bringans: all very under-stated.

We’ve been here before, with William Shawcross at the Charity Commission. Rob Wilson, the last Minister for Civil Society, and now an ex-MP too. A cynic might think it’s that standard, unsubtle good-cop bad-cop, carrot-and-stick routine. But I’m tired of the predictability of these boorish bullies showing off how hard they are to their audience of tabloid editors.

What I see are the staff of these bodies doing their best to build and maintain a constructive relationship with the sector to move forward, offering the best guidance they can, while their chair behaves like the drunken uncle stumbling in and farting at the party, leaving his embarrassed family to stand by smiling through gritted teeth.

"Fundraisers must change their ways to win back trust of public, warns regulator chief," screamed the Telegraph front page. What an irony. Because fundraisers have been working their socks off for the past two years doing just that, and nfpSynergy’s tracking research shows trust in charities is bouncing back.

The Commission on the Donor Experience, which launched its report during the convention, is evidence of that hard work. More than a thousand fundraisers (of which I was one, to declare an interest) have contributed experience and thought to the future shape of fundraising, arriving at more than 500 recommendations covering more than twenty-eight areas of fundraising, with numerous case studies showcasing great practice. Time given by those fundraisers amounts to more than a decade of work, said the commission' chair, Sir Martyn Lewis.

The effort has been huge. The output is immense. The vision is nothing less than a transformed culture of fundraising in the interest of the donor. Much of it isn’t necessarily new, as the best of fundraising has often had the donor at its heart. The IoF fundraising convention was packed with sessions and inspiration on donor-focused fundraising at its best. But the past two years have certainly focused minds, and the report from the Commission on the Donor Experience distils and extends the best thinking in fundraising and offers the opportunity for the sector at large to embrace it.

No one should be complacent. There’s still a lot of work to do. As Karl Wilding, director of public policy and volunteering at the NCVO tweeted: "I hope we spend as much time/resource on taking forward the Commission on the Donor Experience as we do on the FPS." Hear, hear.

Lord Grade could do himself a favour, take his own advice and change his ways to win the trust of the fundraising sector. He could come to next year’s convention. Not to lecture, mind you, because I don’t think fundraisers would be prepared to listen when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but to listen and learn himself. He could even apologise to the fundraisers he insists on insulting. Safe to say, he won’t do any of that.

Matthew Sherrington is an independent charity consultant at Inspiring Action. @m_sherrington

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