On Friday, we had the chance to see how the plans for regulating the sector were shaping up.
I watched online (it's here if you'd like to see it) and was pleased with what I saw. It was a pretty positive session where the concerns voiced over the last few weeks were addressed.
You can take your pick on which synopsis you'd like to read as Third Sector, Civil Society and The Guardian have all summarised events. There's also a detailed blog post from The IG Manager. But I thought it worthwhile to highlight a few points that relate to some of the more specific worries we've all been discussing.
First off, it was repeatedly emphasised that the end goal is an improved relationship between donors and charities. This, to my mind, is a great starting point. Some of the fundraising strategies that have been implemented over the last decade have been very short-sighted. It's got to the point where all some fundraisers appear to care about, is getting a telephone number so they can call and upgrade, call and upgrade and then, when they have exhausted that approach, call and upgrade again.
If it was just one charity, this wouldn't be a problem. But there are a number of organisations that have decided to go down this strategic cul-de-sac.
It's this short-term focus on immediate financial return that's helped stymie connection with the donors who support our work. Ken Burnett made an important point towards the end of the session where he pointed out (and as we have found with our internal research at Bluefrog) that though donors value the work we do, they don't particularly like the way we choose to interact with them.
But the main point we were interested in was what would the Fundraising Preference Service look like. This is what we were told…
- The FPS was a work in progress which would be jointly created with the sector. George Kidd, as the new chair of the service, mentioned he was no advocate of the TPS. It was strongly suggested that the FPS would be designed to give donors a means to control their communications rather than simply switch them off – though this 'reset button' would always be an option.
- Any service would have to take into account the fact that the needs of individual donors would change over time and older donors in particular, would require more than a website.
- Pre-existing relationships weren't going to be ignored. And a distinction between fundraising and other communications would be part of any plan moving forward.
- Consideration of the new European legislation would be incorporated in any regulation, particularly in relation to opting-in versus opting-out.
But, time after time, we came back to protection.
It was repeatedly pointed out that the new regulator was going to focus on ensuring the right ethical principles were adhered to. Lord Grade (who luckily knows what it is like to be regulated) summed this up. He recognised that a few fundraisers had got the sector into the current position and said…
"We all know what's ethical and what isn't ethical…undoubtably there will be all kinds of scams and activities and stuff that people will invent to get round it and we will have to be alert to them."
It has become obvious that when it comes to doing the right thing, some fundraisers have sailed pretty close to the wind. If they carry on trying to avoid ethical responsibilities by exploiting loopholes, then it is likely that the rules we all have to work within will become more and more restrictive.
That's why I think bad behaviour shouldn't be ignored. We can all help each other by questioning such practices when we see them, particularly if it's our colleagues who are responsible.
Fundraising obviously won't die, but it will change – though, if we are sensible, not for the worse. I think, if anything, we could find the long-term benefits of the Etherington Review will far outweigh the short-term problems we might face in adapting how we operate within the new regulations.
By focusing our minds on the protection of vulnerable donors and encouraging us to add donor satisfaction to the dominant KPI of income, Sir Stuart might just be pointing us down the path towards happier, more satisfied supporters who will actually give and do more for the causes they care about.