Lord Grade, chair of the Fundraising Regulator, has got his facts wrong about the Fundraising Preference Service in a series of interviews. He is at risk of alienating the sector, says David Ainsworth.
Lord Grade’s comments today in The Telegraph today, and on radio and television, show a remarkable attitude towards the sector he has been appointed to regulate.
Grade is the chair of the Fundraising Regulator, and as such is responsible for implementing the Fundraising Preference Service - a system which will allow people to opt out of fundraising communications, which will go live on Thursday. But he does not appear certain of how it works.
He told the Today programme:
“You go online through our website or through a charity’s website and you can send a message that you do not want to hear either from any charities or that you only want to hear from those charities that you select that you favour. You can make phone calls to do it, it will be very simple to use, and we hope very effective.”
He went on to add:
“You can say ‘I only want to hear from Cancer Research, Guide Dogs for the Blind or whatever the charity is, I don’t want to hear from anybody else’ and it should be effected.”
A former iteration of the FPS, proposed quite some months ago, would indeed have offered this functionality – or at least something similar. The current FPS does not. It only allows you to opt out from communication from three charities at a time.
So Lord Grade has incorrectly explained the mechanics of the FPS, live on television and radio, and in a national newspaper. This is a matter of concern.
We will write shortly about whether the FPS will deliver what it was intended to do, and how it came into existence, because we have some doubts about its efficacy, and whether it is worth channelling donations towards it. But today the question is how the chair of the Fundraising Regulator found himself in this situation.
Promising one thing and delivering another is unlikely to help
The FPS is supposed to strengthen public trust and confidence in charities. But promising one thing and delivering another – as the chair of the regulator has done – is unlikely to help. When members of the public discover they have been misled, charities will bear a portion of the blame.
It is also remarkable that Lord Grade has so consistently and continually used such evocative and pejorative language to describe fundraisers. He has called charitable fundraisers “the Wild West”, “rogues and cowboys” and now “laggards” – presumably because fundraisers have been slow to sign up to the new regulator.
Grade also described in detail in one newspaper interview how he lied to fundraisers and threatened to sue them when he was approached for money.
His language was of the squire in the country mansion, irked at having been disturbed by the hoi polloi, as if fundraising was a common and distasteful undertaking which decent people should not be subject to.
It is unsurprising, given such a tone, to find that fundraisers have been slow to contribute money towards the salary of Lord Grade and his board.
There is no evidence in anything he says that shows that a fundraiser, subject to a complaint from the public, will be treated with respect and given a fair hearing. There cannot now even be complete confidence he will have read and understood the Code of Fundraising Practice by which they will be judged. Many may feel that they would prefer not to pay money to place themselves under his aegis.
I can see how it might be possible for the chief executive of a fundraising charity to be minded to withdraw funding, and wait for the regulator to fail, to see if the next attempt at regulation is any better.
This is a genuine shame for the staff of the Fundraising Regulator, who are decent people who have been saddled with the wrong support and with insufficient resources. They cannot control their chair and are not responsible for his utterances.
The philosopher John Locke wrote that government only exists with the consent of the governed, and I’ve quoted that many times before. It remains true. I don’t believe that Lord Grade has the consent of the sector, nor do I think he cares to obtain it.
The comments today, and many others, suggest that the Fundraising Regulator will always struggle to win support in the sector with Lord Grade at the helm.