Paul Vanags: We reserve the right to push back on onerous consent requirements

If we find ourselves in conflict with the Fundraising Regulator in order to defend our beneficiaries, so be it, writes our columnist

Paul Vanags
Paul Vanags

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a conference on Effectively Regulating the Voluntary Sector, run by Inside Government. A speech from Suzanne McCarthy, chair of the Fundraising Regulator’s standards committee, caught my ear.

McCarthy was forthright in her views, highlighting street fundraising and door-to-door bag collections as methods of fundraising that were unpopular with the public.

Personally, I disagree with her singling out particular fundraising tactics: no particular tactic is wrong, as long as it is done right. Some tactics are generally more popular than others, but that doesn’t mean those that are less popular are wrong for everyone.

During her speech, McCarthy said that she was regularly asked whether the Fundraising Regulator took beneficiaries into account in its deliberations about which fundraising tactics were good, bad or indifferent. She said in no uncertain terms that it did not. It’s worth reading section 9 of its Purpose and Strategy document here.

The FR’s primary role is to stop people from receiving unwanted fundraising requests. It does not pretend or attempt to balance the triangle of charity, donor and beneficiary, so it is up to charities to ensure they do so on behalf of their beneficiaries.

In the wake of 2015 it’s tempting for our sector to grovel, behave apologetically and just make sure we don’t upset anyone. It’s tempting to see the FR as an ultimate power that must be obeyed.

But it’s important to recognise that within the system of self-regulation we have been given, there is an inherent tension between the priorities of the regulator and the imperative to investigate all avenues of funding to allow our good work to continue. It therefore demands that charities represent the rights and interests of their beneficiaries as well as their own.

In this context, that could mean pushing back on onerous and unwieldy consent requirements. We should not be apologetic and we should, if we are doing our jobs correctly, sometimes find ourselves in conflict with the Fundraising Regulator. We should manage that constructively and positively for the benefit of the whole sector, but we should not shy away from it.

The charity sector comprises a diverse, vibrant and passionate bunch of organisations. It is incumbent on those working within it to ensure that the rights of beneficiaries are justly represented. Without this, the regulatory system won’t work: the rights of all parties must be balanced, even if it’s slightly messy and argumentative at times.

Whatever you think about the events of 2015, it’s important that, in our efforts to rebuild public trust and be donor-centric, we don’t forget the needs of those we seek to help. Let’s remember this over the next year as we develop the models that will shape our sector in the new fundraising world.

Paul Vanags is head of public fundraising at Oxfam and is currently taking a one year sabbatical as co-director of People and Planet

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