2015 has been a difficult and challenging year for charities in relation to fundraising: high profile news stories around fundraising strategies and vulnerable people, combined with the generally negative response from the public and politicians, resulted in reviews of fundraising regulation and practice. A UK-wide review of the current self-regulating system was undertaken by Sir Stuart Etherington of The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), and an informal review was undertaken by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) on whether Scotland can have confidence that the current system is working.
The reviews resulted in different conclusions and recommendations, although it must be noted that they were issued with different terms of reference. The conclusion of the SCVO review differs from the NCVO report, as it suggests the current system should be improved rather than scrapped and replaced. Following up on the publication of the two reviews and their differing conclusions and recommendations, the Institute of Fundraising (IOF) Scotland has recently launched its own survey on the topic, and is seeking its members’ views on how fundraising regulation should work.
Two themes which emerged from the SCVO review which are particularly notable are:
- Charities are not in control of fundraising self-regulation, and
- Trustees are not sufficiently exercising their governance role in relation to fundraising.
In reply to these conclusions, the following recommendations were suggested:
- Charities should lead the design of their own fundraising regulation system, with the associated rules, codes, thresholds and sanctions, and
- Trustees should take ownership and greater strategic control of fundraising in Scotland in order to maintain public trust in fundraising.
The idea of charities taking the lead is further backed up with the statistics contained in the SCVO review which reveal that if members of the public were complaining about a charity, a significant proportion would complain to the charity itself in the first instance, with OSCR as their second choice. If the disgruntled complainer is placing blame with the charities themselves, then it seems logical that it is the charities that should be the driving force behind changes to the current system.
The SCVO review suggests that Trustees are delegating fundraising responsibilities to their fundraisers and employees. While delegation of such tasks is permitted and common place, the review is emphasising that full delegation is not appropriate. Trustees should consider fundraising strategy as part of good governance and retain an active role.
One final point which is mentioned in the review, but not overly highlighted, is the public perception of charities; how modern charities operate, how they have to operate in the current environment, particularly when delivering services and that this does not always match up with what the public thinks charities should do. Working to highlight this difference and closing the gap in the public perception will go some way towards resolving the current issues.
So what is in store for 2016?
As the reviews can be considered as initial reviews, reactively undertaken in direct response to public and political concerns, we anticipate that the conclusions and recommendations will be considered in greater detail and further consultation will be necessary before any decisions to amend the current system will be made.
What can charities do in the meantime? Trustees can look internally and appraise their charity’s current fundraising practice and begin to take greater responsibility. Even if the current system is not amended to highlight the role of the trustee, it is good practice to carry out such an exercise.
Richard Hamer, author of the SCVO review, recently said that it is up to charities in Scotland as to what is done next. Consider what you want, what will work in practice for your organisation, what do you think will improve public confidence. The IoF Scotland survey will not be the only opportunity for charities to voice their opinions, but it is important to reflect on what your position is and join in on the debate.
For more information on the SCVO review, it can be accessed here.