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Fundraising bodies show united front before sceptical MPs

The chief executives of the three main fundraising membership bodies put up a spirited defence of face-to-face fundraising before a committee of MPs yesterday – and insisted they were making progress on Lord Hodgson’s edict to sort out the confusion around their regulatory roles.

Institute of Fundraising chief Peter Lewis set the tone for the discussion when he dismissed an opening comment from Public Administration Select Committee chair Bernard Jenkin about the “anxiety and unhappiness” that fundraisers cause when they ask people for money.

Lewis said that actually, donors generally felt pleasure at giving money, and it must be remembered that charities enable donors to support causes that they care about.  He pointed out that everyone wants and expects more public philanthropy, but in order to achieve this we also need “more and better asking”.

Fundraising Standards Board chief Alistair McLean added that it was important the ask is done properly, “but it is absolutely appropriate that charities should be asking”.

Tory MP: chuggers have a 'harassatastic' time

Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke quoted some survey findings where two-thirds of the public felt uncomfortable about some forms of fundraising, and 70 per cent said more should be done to regulate fundraising.  He also mentioned the recent Sunday Telegraph exposé of bad practice by street fundraisers employed by the agency Tag.

“People are being harassed by chuggers and hard selling,” said Elphicke. “These chuggers are going round having a ‘harassatastic’ time, yet I don’t hear any acceptance from you that there is a problem. Are you in denial?”

Lewis said they all accepted there is “noise” around face-to-face, and the sector cannot be complacent. But this must be considered against the success that the technique brings for charities. Last year, he said, 1.3 million people signed up to a direct debit after being asked. That will bring in £130m for those good causes.

Elphicke responded: “Yes but at what cost is that money being raised, when it will do so much reputational damage? You need to get your house in order or Parliament will legislate.”

Bernard Jenkin added that no matter how strict the codes of practice are, there are severe limits on how much street fundraising can be controlled.

Sally de la Bedoyere, CEO of the PFRA, said this is where mystery shopping and site management agreements come in.  She cited Plymouth as an example – since the site management agreement was signed with the local authority there, complaints about chuggers had plummeted from 50 to two.

Jenkin pointed out that none of the fundraising bodies had very high brand awareness, and posed the question of whether the Charity Commission should play a role in handling public complaints.  But Lewis warned against using a “sledgehammer to crack a nut”.

Regulatory confusion

Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland cited Lord Hodgson’s report condemning the confused regulatory landscape, and asked if the three membership bodies were sorting that out as instructed and “getting on better now”.

Lewis said they each had a distinct role in the regulatory framework – the Institute as legislator, the PFRA as police, and the FRSB as judge – and that this model was the right one. Alistair McLean added that the challenge laid down by Lord Hodgson was significant, but that good progress had already been made by the three organisations in making it easier for the public to understand.

The fundraising bodies were appearing before the committee as part of its inquiry into the regulation of the charitable sector and the Charities Act 2006.

This article was taken from www.civilsociety.co.uk – http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/fundraising/news/content/13622/