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What’s so special about fundraising in Scotland?

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Fundraising is high on the agenda of the charity sector these days. After a flurry of activity north and south of the Border in the wake of a couple of notorious media stories, a Fundraising Regulator for England and Wales has been established. It has adjudicated on one case and has several others under investigation. Other regulators have weighed in, with the Information Commissioner’s Office fining two large charities for misuse of data, and the Charity Commission joining the others to warn of the regulations coming over the hill in the shape of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) that come into force in May next year.

Scotland will have to comply with the GDPR as well as with the Code of Fundraising Practice and any changes to it. So how are we dealing with this environment? Consultation here determined that, while charities welcome regulation as a guarantee of high standards, they wanted a light touch system that would maintain a process of self-regulation, with the addition of an Independent Panel that would promote high standards in fundraising and would adjudicate on any complaints that could not be sorted out by the charity concerned.  

What does the Panel look like?

  • Its formal name is the Independent Fundraising Standards and Adjudication Panel for Scotland.
  • Its members act in a voluntary capacity and include fundraisers with experience of large charities, volunteer community fundraising and Higher Education as well as someone with experience of data protection, a charity lawyer, and a member of the Board of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO).
  • We are supported by one paid staff member, seconded from the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR).
  • We have observers at our quarterly meetings from the Fundraising Regulator, the Institute of Fundraising, SCVO and OSCR.
  • We will be independent in our decisions, but we’re not isolated and we’re developing Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with the other major players, so that we can work with them but maintain our independence.

 What’s the problem?

Underpinning these light touch arrangements is the belief that, while we mustn’t allow ourselves to be complacent, fundraising in Scotland is in a fairly healthy state. We avoided the sharp dip in trust in charities that happened in England in 2015 and there has been very little concern surfacing about fundraising in the cases that OSCR has been dealing with recently. The Complaints Hub for fundraising (https://fundraisingcomplaints.scot/) was set up in July and there has been a sprinkling of enquiries to it but so far there hasn’t been a complaint that can’t be sorted out by the charity itself.

There are various possible reasons for this Scottish effect. Perhaps our fundraising is indeed of a high standard, and that’s what we all want to believe. Perhaps people don’t yet know where to place their concerns, so we need to make sure that our complaints process is well publicised. It’s even been suggested that, although people in Scotland grumble a lot, they don’t complain formally as much as the rest of the UK; yet OSCR is kept busy dealing with other kinds of concerns about charities.  

What we don’t have are very large charities based in Scotland. More than half have an income of less than £25,000 and only 19% bring in over £100,000. Many of the problems arise when a charity outsources its fundraising, so that Trustees lose track of what’s being done in their name, and that’s less likely to be the case with small charities.

Keeping standards high

But whatever the size of the charity, its fundraising needs to be legal, open, honest, and respectful. There’s a plethora of guidelines to help us through the Code of Fundraising Practice and relevant current and future legislation, but it can be daunting for small organisations. One of our challenges will be to make sure that all charities in Scotland are confident about how to raise funds in ways that are acceptable in the present climate and we welcome comments about how this can be done.  

I’ve been struck by how this subject introduces its own perspective on how funds circulate through the charity sector. Rather than focus on the charity, you need to foreground the relationship between the donor and the beneficiary, which is mediated by the charity. Some people believe that too many charities have been taking their donors for granted and the emphasis is now on ensuring that the donor’s experience is a good one; in fact, there is a Commission on the Donor Experience that is due to report soon. But donors also want beneficiaries of the charity to flourish and will not want to be treated so circumspectly that charities are hampered from looking after their beneficiaries. Getting that balance right is the challenge. What is good for donors must also be good for beneficiaries.

Maintaining trust

Good fundraising is fundamental for a healthy charity sector. One case of bad practice can undermine confidence not only in that charity but in the whole charity brand, so we will deal robustly with any serious breach of good fundraising. Our goal is to encourage high standards throughout Scotland, so that charities continue to be trusted to deliver their vision for a better country.

The Independent Fundraising Standards & Adjudication Panel for Scotland members were announced in December 2016. You can read more about this here.

We also interviewed Alison and asked some questions about the Scottish fundraising process, the Panel and its next steps. Please hit play below to watch. (This video has subtitles)