The Minister for Civil Society has given the fundraising self-regulation regime "an opportunity to demonstrate that it can work effectively", but has warned that the window in which it can do so "may not remain open for much longer".
Speaking in London yesterday at the annual general meeting of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, Rob Wilson said that "charities' hard-earned reputation is at serious risk" because of current scrutiny and public discontent with fundraising and its regulation. He said an increasing number of MPs had doubts about the regulatory set-up.
"No one should try to deny that there is a problem here or that there are indefensible practices taking place," he said. "The Fundraising Standards Board has received as many complaints in the past few weeks as it normally does in an entire year.
"The challenge is for regulators to respond in a speedy, thorough and positive way to address these levels of public outrage. They must show that the values that charities put into practice in their tremendous work across and beyond the UK are equally present in the way that funds are raised. People are asking whether self-regulation itself is working. Clearly the public has its doubts, as do a growing number of my colleagues in parliament."
He said he had already had "correspondence about areas of potential change and reform with the regulators" and the fundraising industry needed to look at its standards including whether the public was properly represented in the way those standards are formed. "It also needs to look at the bodies themselves and whether they are the best way to self regulate," he said.
"I’m giving self-regulation an opportunity to demonstrate that it can work effectively and make the short-term and long-term reforms necessary. I urge you to take that window of opportunity seriously because the window may not remain open for that much longer. Change is essential; you should embrace it and lead it rather than allow other people to do it for you."
Wilson made only one clear reference to the speech made on Monday by Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, in which Etherington said self-regulation of fundraising was "not working in its current form". Wilson said that charities’ employees should consider how they would feel on the receiving end of their charity’s fundraising tactics.
Wilson said he believed that "no cold-calling stickers should be observed immediately by all charity fundraisers". Although he understood that doing so might mean the loss of some donations, he said, "I hope you will agree that the longer-term reputation of the sector and fundraisers in particular is the greater prize".
Introducing the minister, Peter Hills-Jones, chief executive of the PFRA, said: "Everybody wants self-regulation to work; everybody wants fundraising to work." Also speaking before the minister, Campbell Robb, chief executive of the housing charity Shelter, said that although he thought self-regulation was the right option, fundraisers should focus on raising their standards, whatever form regulation took. He said: "It doesn't matter if it’s state or self; it doesn't matter whether it's one or the other – it's up to us do the best we can."
Speaking at the end of the conference, Paul Stallard, chair of the PFRA, said: "You heard it from the minister himself – we've got a challenge ahead of us."