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Is it time the sector rethought our approach to accountability and transparency?

Is it time the sector rethought our approach to accountability and transparency?
Opinion

Is it time the sector rethought our approach to accountability and transparency?2

Fundraising | Michael Naidu | 13 Aug 2009

So Intelligent Giving has succumbed to a lack of funds and subsumed to NPC. Meanwhile, the ImpACT Coalition has run out of funders (apart from a few committed organisations) and been taken over by ACEVO.

What can we read from this? That the public and the Institute of Fundraising aren’t bothered enough about accountability and transparency (A & T) to give their much funds to support it? Or that the public would rather give their money to charities actually helping people and the Institute would rather focus on running conferences to support the sector to be more effective?

Will NPC be able to bridge the gap between offering a highly tailored approach to major donors and giving the average low-level donors the confidence to make a donation and believe it will be used well?

Will ACEVO be able to ensure that Charities have A & T at the top of their agenda by liasing with CEOs, where ImpACT failed by focussing on the fundraising sector as the drivers for change?

Plenty of questions, herewith my personal thoughts:

The public does care about A & T, but in a roundabout way. They don’t care about the sector approach; they want to trust that their gift will be used well. Intelligent Giving failed to reach the targets it set for visitors to the site (let alone fundraising from those visitors) so it seems clear to me that only a very small minority of donors found this service of use. The assumptions that donors are web savvy and desperately need to know the highest salary paid before they make a donation are just that: assumptions.

The Institute also cares about A & T, but realistically has little influence over the charity sector outside of the realms of fundraising. To me, fundraising is a window through which you can view an organisation’s effectiveness. If an organisation chooses not to prioritise A & T, that window will be at best in need of a clean and at worst, frosted, to prevent nosy parkers.

NPC have a logical and business like approach to disseminating information for donors. The reality is that the majority of people making small donations give because of emotional and personal reasons, something that Adam Rothwell seemed to refuse to acknowledge. The challenge will be to react to this change in motivation and supply information in a relevant format for an audience not fixated on cost income ratios. That is if NPC choose to continue with the “remit” of Intelligent Giving. I would be most surprised if they took over Intelligent Giving for their brand values and awareness.

ACEVO seems like the logical place to push the A & T agenda, although their survey of the public’s understanding of the sector seems to be a bit out of focus. I struggled to answer the questions myself and I have been in the sector for over a decade. Only 23% of the public knew that between 500,000 and 750,000 people work in the charity sector. And? Not sure how this will pan out, but I hope ACEVO will engage widely with the sector before spending the funds they received to take over the remit of ImpACT.

My first interaction with accountability and transparency occurred back in 2002 when the board of the PFRA responded to the New Labour think tank report “private action, public benefit”. The report raised concerns about the public perception of charity fundraising, and from this document the FRSB was born. At the time, many board members hadn’t seen evidence of this decrease in public trust and confidence and chose to focus on self-regulation and supporting best practice.

Seven years on and the efforts of self-appointed watchdogs and sector bigwigs to halt the perceived decline of public trust and confidence seem to have failed. Time to go back to the drawing board.

Nick
19 Aug 2009

Charities want to believe that they are making a difference. Individual donors want to believe that they their donation will make a difference.

Statutory, corporate and charitable funders want to believe that their grant has made a difference. Umbrella bodies for the sector are keen (desparately keen in the case of ACEVO) to make the case for more money going into the sector. The upshot of all of this is a tendency for everyone to collude (often from the best of motives) in a massive overstatement of charity effectiveness. We all want charity work to be transformative, quick and cheap. Give £5 and change the world.

Really making the world a better place is a slow, messy and uncertain process. Even the best charities struggle, because the work is difficult, and management is complex. Many charities have committed and passionate people but lack skills, capital or strategy. Some charities are well resourced, but have lost their soul. Charities do some things better than the public or private sectors, but that does not mean that they can do magic, or that everything a charity does is worthwhile.

Regulation and codes of conduct are essential in stopping fraud and other abuses of public trust. However, the much more difficult question is whether we (as donors, as sector workers) want to be realistic about how hard it is to really make a lasting difference.

Louise Richards, Director Of Policy And Campaigns, Institute Of Fundraising
13 Aug 2009

It's right to hone in on accountability and transparency in our sector. The Institute is committed to these principles and invested in, and established, the ImpACT Coalition, developing it to the stage where it is able to exert a sector wide influence - at chief executive level - as part of ACEVO. Themes of accountability and transparency are common throughout our Codes of Fundraising practice, and in other areas of our work too: in our professional development agenda, recession support work, in our one-day conferences, and at National Convention.

We all need to take responsibility for promoting and acting according to principles of accountability and transparency and the fundraising community is a key part of this process. The Institute represents fundraisers, and this is where our focus must lie.

 

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