Richard James, director of
Jolly Good Communications writes
Richard James is a director of Jolly Good Communications, a social enterprise providing a full range of communications and public relations services to charities, social enterprises and other not-for-profits. They also work with start-ups and SMEs, helping them to operate in a socially, environmentally and ethically conscious way.
We are living in an age where charities are under more scrutiny than arguably any other time in living memory. The sector has been rocked by high profile scandals from industry standard-bearers Oxfam and the WWF, seen acrimonious and very public shutdowns (Kids Company) and had to weather waves of bad publicity due to controversial approaches to data management and direct marketing tactics.
Public support has dipped, with fewer people giving to charity than previously. Furthermore, although overall levels of trust haven’t changed too much over the past few years, they remain at their lowest since way back in 2005, with a long-term increase in the number of people who are saying their trust has decreased. And those who feel they cannot trust charities as much as they once could are donating less as a result. The lesson? Trust is crucial for charities to fundraise – and even operate – effectively.
In the wake of this comes the new approach from the Fundraising Regulator, where the subject(s) and details of a complaint are made public. The decision was made by the Board of the Fundraising Regulator back in October 2018 and came into effect on 1 March 2019. The first set of 10 named investigation summaries was issued earlier this month, with the list including some industry big-hitters, with Macmillan Cancer Support, Alzheimer’s Society, The Salvation Army and the NSPCC all among those listed.
Transparency is becoming ever more important in the sector. Now that the Fundraising Regulator is bringing its approach more in line with that of the Charity Commission (which has publicly named organisations subject to investigations since June 2014), what could easily be a name-and-shame exercise at a time when charities need it least, has become an opportunity for the sector to start rebuilding public trust at a time when charities need it most.
A crucial element of the naming process is that it’s not just charities in the dock, but also the private companies they often enlist to undertake fundraising activities on their behalf. While not held in the same regard as charities, these fundraising companies nevertheless carry the reputation of charities in their hands whenever they interact with the public, be it in the street, on the doorstep or over the phone. So, to include them in a public naming complaints process will only help to draw a clearer line between the two types of organisation.
Why is this important? Put simply, in the event the fundraiser was in breach of the Code of Fundraising Practice, it reduces the reputational damage done to a charity with relatively little control over the behaviour of contracted fundraisers operating in their name. Of course, it is a charity’s responsibility to do its due diligence when selecting an agency, but that can only go so far – which is why the Regulator is needed.
In addition to the ability to separate the charity from blame, this new approach also clearly details the steps taken to date and what is expected next from the organisations involved. This will not only improve accountability, but it also gives any interested members of the public rare insight into what is being done to improve the way funds are generated – especially at bigger charities. As a rule, the general public can reasonably accept mistakes will be made, as long as some learning and positive change comes out of the situation. Of course, it may mean there will be uncomfortable conversations to be had, and potential public relations issues to be managed, but if that is what it takes to get the public back on side, then, in the long run, it can only be a good thing.
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