Universities must comply with fundraising law, says Sir Stuart Etherington

Speaking at the Strategic Fundraising for Leaders in Higher Education conference today, the NCVO chief says universities and higher-education institutions should take a lead in supporting the Fundraising Regulator

Sir Stuart Etherington
Sir Stuart Etherington

Universities and higher-education institutions should comply with the law and fundraising good practice guidelines in the same way as other charities, according to Sir Stuart Etherington.

Speaking today about his review of the self-regulation of fundraising at the annual Strategic Fundraising for Leaders in Higher Education conference, hosted by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and Universities UK in London, Etherington, who is chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said that although there were differences between universities and other charities, this did not mean they should not follow the same rules as other fundraising organisations.

He also urged universities to take the lead in supporting the new Fundraising Regulator and consider paying a levy to help fund it.

"Many have spoken to me about the special relationship many universities have with their alumni," said Etherington. "I agree that there’s an interesting difference between higher-education institutions and other charities, which is that the former feel compelled to keep tens or hundreds of thousands of alumni on their databases and communicate with them, even if this comes at great cost and no return.

"But ultimately, whether fundraising is happening to support Macmillan or a university research project, it still constitutes appealing to the generosity of individuals, and the activity must be done in compliance with the law and also with high regard for good practice."

He said universities and higher-education institutions were part of the fundraising community it was therefore appropriate for them to be covered by the framework laid out in his review, which was published in September.

"There is an opportunity here for higher education to become much more involved with other organisations that are involved in fundraising, but also to lead the way in terms of good practice," he said.

His comments have come after the Russell Group, the umbrella body for 24 leading universities, told MPs last month that Etherington’s review had had "unintended knock-on consequences" for universities.

Etherington also spoke about the importance of strong governance in improving fundraising practices. He urged organisations to add fundraising issues "high up" on their risk registers. He said this was because the situation of charities that received negative media coverage of their fundraising activities last summer had shown that fundraising activities could be a reputational risk for organisations.

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