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Regulating fundraising for the future: trust in charities, confidence in fundraising regulation

Britain is a generous society with a strong tradition of philanthropic action. In turn, there is tremendous, though not inexhaustible, public goodwill towards Britain’s charities. As such, they have a privileged status in society. With this comes a responsibility to live up to the very highest standards. Most charities are conscious of this and strive to work to high standards in everything that they do.

Where this falls short – as has recently happened in the case of some fundraising practice – it is important to ensure that charities and the bodies charged with regulation act swiftly and effectively to restore public trust. As Lord Hodgson, a previous reviewer of fundraising regulation, has noted, the charity sector is only as strong as its weakest link.

Britain is a better place because of our collective generosity, which enables the work of thousands of charities and voluntary organisations. The two are inextricably linked: and we are clear that charities and voluntary organisations must be allowed to raise funds from the public.

We are equally clear that this right to ask is not unbounded. For the public, the right to be left alone, or approached with respect and humility, is equally strong. This is not simply a matter of public interest, but is also key to the long-term sustainability of charities.

As a response to the greater demands placed upon them, we have seen an increase in charities’ fundraising activities. However this has meant that the balance between giving and asking has sometimes gone awry. Some of the techniques used, or the manner in which they have been used, present a clear risk of damaging charities in the public eye. Despite this, we are clear that charities and those working within them have the best intentions. Unfortunately, good intentions are not always enough to avoid bad outcomes.

The recommendations in this report aim to achieve a better balance between the public’s right to be left alone and charities’ right to ask. We have sought to resolve many competing arguments, not least of which has been the call for direct government intervention.

But we remain of the view that in order to maintain public trust it is up to charities to take responsibility for a better relationship with their donors and the wider public. This begins with charity trustees, who we believe need to take a more active role in the oversight of fundraising. We now have the opportunity, indeed the duty, to bring about change. We believe our proposals will create a simple and clear system, comprehensible to the public and charities, and proportionate to the issues at hand. The clear majority of those we have spoken with as part of this Review have expressed their full appreciation of the seriousness of the problems and a clear desire to find a solution. We hope to have provided a constructive way forward, including plans for implementation.

Ultimately our ambition is that charities view and conduct fundraising not simply as a way to raise money, but most importantly as a conduit between their donors and the cause they wish to support.