BLOG: ‘The rules need to change but not the main player’ – Boswell on the fundraising review

Normally I am so focused on running FareShare that I do not have the time to comment on what is happening at a sector level, but the recent Etherington Report into the regulation of fundraising cannot be allowed to pass without comment. As the ex CEO of the Institute of Fundraising at a time when we established self-regulation for fundraising I feel I have something to add to the debate.

I was the man who spent more than three years of his life trying and eventually persuading the fundraising community that we needed a public facing complaints body that would allow independent complaints to be addressed in a manner that reinforced trust and confidence. The end result was the establishment of the Fundraising Standards Board as a separate and independent body (although a Government funded report recommended it should be part of the you don’t always have to do what a Government funded report says). The premise was that it was a question of when, not if, the media would have a feeding frenzy around fundraising activity.

People like Joe Saxton had for years been showing us time and time again that the public did not understand or appreciate many successful but unloved fundraising techniques. Those who opposed the establishment of self-regulation used the success of fundraising techniques as evidence that they were popular. This woolly thinking mostly came from people who were directors of fundraising of the larger formulaic big charity fundraising machines.

Since then, the FRSB has grown so that now little under 2,000 fundraising organisations are signed up. The FRSB tick logo is carried on countless pieces of fundraising activity and £6.5 billion of donors' money is given under the scheme (60% of all donations given in the UK).

Self-regulation in charity fundraising was a first in the history of self-regulation in the UK. It was set up before there was a collapse in trust and confidence whereas every other self-regulation scheme was a response to a crisis. The Westminster and Scottish Governments supported the establishment of the FRSB with some £1.5 million in funding and the scheme now works using £500,000 of income per annum from those charities that have subscribed to it.

The Etherington Report recommends binning all this and starting again and says that there is no confidence in the FRSB. While there is so much in the report that is excellent this is the one area that is deeply flawed. There is no evidence whatsoever that the public would have a problem with up-scaling the FRSB to have the resources and teeth to do an even better job. Indeed I believe the FRSB would welcome this and have been crying out for this to happen.

I fully agree with the need for a stronger scheme with more resources and more teeth but where is the logic in throwing the last 10 years’ work away? For what reason or purpose? To not build on the many millions of tax payers’ and donors’ money that has been spent on the scheme so far would be a complete and utter waste. If this is just to be seen to do something new then that is simply not good enough.

The FRSB has a strong and competent board headed up by Andrew Hind who as the ex-CEO of the Charity Commission knows his stuff, but they have never had the mandate to deliver the full depth of the potential of their work. The rules need to change but not the main player. The Etherington Report creates this mandate but to simply rip up the last 10 years and start again for no clear, measurable, and justifiable reason is simply a waste of money.

Now that the charities minister has accepted the recommendations of the Etherington review, he needs to justify precisely why he is writing off both tax payers’ and donors’ money in starting all over again, rather than building on the foundations laid with an enhanced and stronger self-regulatory process.

Lindsay Boswell is Chief Executive of FareShare. Previously chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, Boswell has 25 years’ senior management experience in the voluntary sector

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