Leaders from 17 of the UK’s largest charities have said fundraising has failed to meet the necessary standards and called for the establishment of a new, stronger regulator, in an open letter to the Sunday Times.
The letter is co-ordinated by the Institute of Fundraising and signed by charities including Oxfam, Cancer Research UK, the British Red Cross, Macmillan Cancer Support and the NSPCC.
It says that fundraising practice has failed to live up to the standards required of UK charities and commits to strengthening the Code of Fundraising Practice.
“We welcome Sir Stuart Etherington’s current review of self-regulation of fundraising and will continue to work closely with governments and charity regulators around the UK to assess the need for any further safeguards that might be required," the letter says.
“We will support the establishment of a new and independent regulator with the power to proactively investigate, audit and impose strong penalties on any charity that breaks the rules on fundraising."
The announcement yesterday follows a series of recent articles in the Daily Mail claiming to expose poor practice at fundraising agencies, saying that charities sold donors’ details and suggesting they put pressure on vulnerable individuals to give.
Earlier this year the fundraising community faced a rise in the number of complaints after the suicide of Olive Cooke, Britain's longest-serving poppy seller, who newspapers claimed had been "hounded to death" by fundraisers.
The fallout has already led to changes in legislation, a government-backed inquiry into fundraising regulation, led by Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCV, and a further inquiry by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which will take evidence from senior charity figures tomorrow.
IoF backs call to strengthen regulation
In a statement accompanying the letter the IoF has also announced the appointment of Suzanne McCarthy, the immigration services commissioner, as the first independent chair of the IoF Standards Committee, the body responsible for setting the Code.
The IoF also announced its support for stronger regulation.
Richard Taylor (pictured), chair of the IoF and executive director of fundraising and marketing at CRUK, said: “I don’t know any fundraisers who wouldn’t be shocked if they thought they’ve created anxiety and distress to members of the public.
“Where that’s happened I want to apologise for that and say sorry, we have fallen below the expectations of the public.
“The vast majority of fundraising is done to high standards but I was very surprised and shocked at some of the examples of individual charities and agencies we have seen. We want to set the code at a higher level and stop certain practices that we don’t find acceptable.
“Data selling shouldn’t be buried in the small print and I expect that to be dealt with, so you ban the size of text where it’s so small it can be lost. The regulator needs to have more teeth and more sanctions.
“Now is our chance to show that we really do care about regaining the trust and confidence of the public.”
Fundraising Standards Board to respond tomorrow
The sector's primary regulator is currently the Fundraising Standards Board. However the Code of Fundraising Practice, which it enforces, is set by the Institute of Fundraising.
The FRSB has a voluntary membership structure, is funded by dues paid by members, and has no powers to impose penalties.
Earlier this year it called for a number of amendments to the Code, in order to strengthen the regulation of fundraising.
The FRSB has said it will respond to the call for a new regulator after the committee hearing tomorrow.
The text of the letter in full
“We live in an incredibly generous country. For generations, British people have dug deep to support a wide range of great causes here at home and overseas.
“This generosity places a big responsibility on all UK charities to behave well in everything we do - especially in how we ask for support.
“We know that there have been times where fundraising practice has failed to live up to these high standards. We are determined to change that.
“No one should ever feel pressured into giving. The vulnerable should always receive the strongest protection. And we need to act quickly and decisively when any fundraising practice is found wanting.
“As some of the UK’s leading charities we are absolutely committed to fundraising in a way that respects the rights of individuals and meets the expectations the public has in us. Where we need to change the way we seek the support of the public we will do so.
“We will only ever behave in an open, honest and respectful way towards our donors and the public.
“We welcome Sir Stuart Etherington’s current review of self-regulation of fundraising and will continue to work closely with governments and charity regulators around the UK to assess the need for any further safeguards that might be required.
“We will support the establishment of a new and independent regulator with the power to proactively investigate, audit and impose strong penalties on any charity that breaks the rules on fundraising.
“We will commit to a strengthened Code of Fundraising Practice to guide how we contact people and ask for support.
“We will ensure at all times that we protect and safeguard those who might be vulnerable from undue pressure.
“There is nothing wrong with seeking donations. Everybody leads busy lives and, no matter how deeply they care about a good cause, they often only give when asked.
“If charities simply waited for donations, the many millions raised for good causes each year through the long standing and unwavering generosity of the public would be at risk. From protecting children from cruelty, helping tackle hunger to funding research into disease, we would achieve far less.
“The trust put in us by our supporters demands the highest standards of fundraising. We must always strive to meet them.”
List of signatories
- Paul Boissier, Chief Executive, RNLI
- Mike Adamson, Chief Executive, British Red Cross
- David Canavan, Acting Chief Executive, RSPCA
- Dr Jane Collins, Chief Executive, Marie Curie
- Lesley-Anne Alexander, Chief Executive, RNIB
- Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive, Cancer Research UK
- Chris Simpkins, Director General, The Royal British Legion
- Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive, Scope
- Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive, Crisis
- Peter Wanless, Chief Executive, NSPCC
- Mark Goldring, Chief Executive, Oxfam
- Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive, Save the Children
- Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive, Macmillan Cancer Support
- Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive, Alzheimer’s Society
- Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive, Breast Cancer Now
- Henny Braund, Chief Executive, Anthony Nolan
- Philip Goodwin, Chief Executive VSO International