Speech: Helping charity trustees get fundraising right

Charity fundraisers are pretty busy just now. Christmas is typically a time for generosity and the need, in this country and internationally, remains great and varied.

You don’t need me to tell you that good causes desperately need the money, nor that it is getting harder to come by. But when it comes to fundraising methods and practices we know it isn’t simply “the ends justify the means”. The public response to the recent exposure of some poor fundraising practices cannot be ignored.

Did this happen partly because some charity trustees took their eye off the ball? Many comments to us, and to Stuart Etherington’s review of fundraising regulation, suggest yes. Some trustees were not sufficiently engaged to ensure their fundraising reflected the values of their charities, or balanced the different risks.

So how do we recalibrate the relationship between trustees and their charity’s fundraising? The Charity Commission’s newly revised fundraising guidance for trustees aims to do just that. We have published a draft for consultation. We want feedback from donor groups, fundraisers, the general public, but especially trustees of charities large and small.

Our guidance states clearly that the buck stops with trustees. But let me be clear: this is not new. Trustees have always had ultimate legal responsibility for their charity fundraising, but perhaps have not fully appreciated what this means. Our guidance gives trustees a mandate to control fundraising, because – just as with any aspect of running their charity – they are accountable. Trustees must understand their role so that they can put safeguards in place to avoid the bad practice that led to this summer’s headlines.

We set out in our guidance the legal duties of trustees, and the relevant good practice – which we expect trustees to follow, or have a good reason why not. The guidance is shorter and more succinct than previous versions, and is focused around six key principles for trustees.

All this against the backdrop of the establishment by the charity sector of a new self-regulation regime, expected to start operating next April. More details of the new fundraising regulator, and changes to the code which sets out standards for fundraising, will emerge over the coming weeks. But trustees need to be clear now about their legal responsibilities for overseeing their charity’s fundraising. We don’t expect trustees to become expert fundraisers, but they need to have – and show – effective control of fundraising.

Our new guidance sets out six key principles for trustees:

  1. Plan effectively – be directly involved in setting and monitoring your charity’s overall approach to fundraising.
  2. Supervise your fundraisers – oversee the fundraising others carry out for your charity, and satisfy yourself it is in the charity’s best interests.
  3. Protect your charity’s reputation, money and other assets – manage your charity’s assets and resources, meeting legal duties to act in its best interests and protect it from inappropriate risk.
  4. Comply with specific fundraising rules – different aspects of fundraising such as managing donor data or using a commercial partner involve different legal requirements, and you must make sure you have enough information to ensure your charity complies.
  5. Follow the recognised professional standards for fundraising – the Code of Fundraising Practice outlines the standards designed to ensure that fundraising is open, honest and respectful.
  6. Be open and accountable – comply with the relevant accounting and reporting requirements, but also demonstrate that your charity is well run and effective and handle any complaints properly.

The message from everyone involved, from the Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson, and Lord Grade, the Chair of the new fundraising regulator, to the representatives of every charity, small and large, is clear – they want self-regulation of fundraising to work and give the public confidence. I hope our guidance will help trustees get their fundraising right, so charities can keep bringing in the funds to support their vital work.

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