Fundraisers are ‘overfishing the waters’, says Etherington

25 Jun 2015 News

Fundraisers are “overfishing the waters” and five key changes are needed for self-regulation to maintain public trust and confidence, the chief executive of NCVO has said.

Stuart Etherington

Fundraisers are “overfishing the waters” and five key changes are needed for self-regulation to maintain public trust and confidence, the chief executive of NCVO has said.

Etherington made his initial comments at an annual Civil Society Reception held by Russam GMS, a resourcing and support firm.

Etherington's comments follow on from a speech last Monday, when he told NCVO's Evolve conference that self-regulation was “not necessarily working in its current form”, and called for the setting of the Code of Fundraising Practice to move to the Fundraising Standards Board.

He followed up with further ideas for the reform of self-regulation in a blog today, produced in response to an Institute of Fundraising announcement that it would change the composition of its Standards Committee to add lay members, meaning fundraisers will no longer form the majority - a move in the direction Etherington previously suggested.

'Overfishing the waters'

In his speech yesterday Etherington pointed to a template letter produced by The One Show, that asked charities to ‘stop bothering’ people.

“In two days there were 30,000 downloads of that letter. That is telling you something about the public’s perception of what is going on,” he said. “We are overfishing the waters and I think what has happened is that our techniques have got out of kilter in some ways.”

“Although I suspect that the tragic death of Olive Cooke was probably not related to fundraising, it has sparked public interest in the way in which charities raise money.”

“We need to improve the self-regulatory structure of fundraising,” he said. “There needs to be self-regulation [and we need to] take responsibility of this.

"We’ve rather neglected the self-regulatory structure and we need to get to grips with this more effectively. Those are some of the challenges.”

Changes to fundraising self-regulation

Etherington outlined what he feels needs to change in more detail in a blog today. He claimed five further changes are needed to make self-regulation more effective.

He said today that:

  1. It must be clearer for the public to know where to complain.
  2. The FRSB needs more effective funding
  3. More charities - possibly all charities - should be regulated by the FRSB
  4. The FRSB must have a stronger sanctions regime for charities which breach its codes
  5. More focus must be put on the boards and chief executives who set fundraisers' targets, and guidance must be produced to help them.

"I welcome the Institute of Fundraising’s response today," he said in his blog. "This is an important move to help ensure the public’s voice is heard in setting fundraising standards.

"If the public’s experience of fundraising is negative, it will over time erode trust in charities, our most precious commodity.

"But there remain some issues to be addressed."

‘A significant shift’

Etherington also said in his speech yesterday that there was “a significant shift” in the way the sector did business – one that would continue “over the next three or four years”, he said.

“Charities sell things,” he said. “They have become more entrepreneurial more enterprising. Their business models are changing and their governance will change as a result of that. We have seen the introduction of community interest companies… social investment and social enterprise. It is a nascent market but it is developing.”

Etherington predicted a sector move towards a “grass roots back to the future approach” involving greater community volunteering.

“Charities will look at their original mission and they will think that they can’t sustain that mission by virtue of the way that they’ve been doing it. And they will switch back to an alternative strategy,” he said.

“My advice for charities is to look at who else has capacity within your community and see what you can do to align yourself with them. There may be new resources around that we are not thinking about and volunteering resources that we are not using effectively.”

“I don’t see any sudden injections of public funds assisting the sector. We might see a change in the way contracting is done. And that might advantage the sector a bit.

“The bulk of the cuts will fall on the most vulnerable in our society. It is the welfare budget that the state is really after and that will increase demand for the voluntary sector,” he said.

“We will see a growth in [welfare] services as they respond to that particular area. We have seen the growth of food banks already. You can expect increase growth of grass roots organisations and activity.”

But he said the sector had a “can-do” attitude with the “wit to be able to deal with the challenges”.

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