Five years of fundraising regulation

By Peter Lewis, former Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Fundraising

David Bowie sang “five years, what a surprise”, and I must confess I feel the same when I look back at the five years since the Fundraising Regulator came into being, and how the fundraising community and fundraising regulation have evolved since then.

2015/16 saw the cross-party review of fundraising self-regulation (the Etherington review) and the merger of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PRFA) into the Institute of Fundraising, which now seems like a lifetime ago. Even without the Coronavirus pandemic, which has discombobulated all of us for almost a year, the world of fundraising has changed considerably over the past five years. 

I genuinely believe that fundraising standards are now higher, the public and supporters have a better experience of fundraising, and the system of fundraising regulation is stronger. At the Chartered Institute, we have embedded excellent fundraising that inspires supporters to give at the heart of our work. The public’s voice is better heard and understood both through the more rigorous and effective regulatory regime run by the Fundraising Regulator, as well as by charities themselves because of initiatives such as our Supporter Experience project. The Fundraising Preference Service provides an essential backstop when communications are not as they should be, and there is coherent and consistent collaboration between my team at the Chartered Institute and the Fundraising Regulator. 

We have evolved too. We are now the Chartered Institute of Fundraising, giving formal recognition to our members of their professional skills, and to us for our role as the professional membership body for fundraising and fundraisers around the UK. Our work to support our members and to develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours of fundraisers has expanded, for example through our professional qualification programmes. We have driven forward work to strengthen the profession by making it more equal, diverse and inclusive, and our work to represent our members to governments and stakeholders around the UK has been taken forward more effectively as a membership body rather than a quasi-regulator. 

But that change in formal role does not mean our work towards achieving high standards and excellent fundraising has diminished. On the contrary, we get greater engagement with our guidance from our members than ever before and our mystery shopping programmes show consistent improvements in fundraiser behaviours. To ensure accountability and transparency, a member of my team observes the Fundraising Regulator’s committee meetings, and we have a formal Memorandum of Understanding in place so that we can share information on matters of mutual interest effectively. Through our member-led Standards Advisory Board, we have responded to all consultations on the Code of Fundraising Practice and have worked with the Fundraising Regulator’s team on key things such as the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Most recently, I’ve been pleased to see how effectively our two teams have worked together to deliver joint guidance in response to Government restrictions on social contact due to Coronavirus. 

Moving forward, one thing we should always remember is that regulation, standards and definitions of excellent fundraising are not set in stone. Values and behaviours are more fundamental, but approaches will change. Just as we have all adapted to the pandemic, and charities have moved fast to engage with their supporters in a virtual environment, our work, and the work of the Fundraising Regulator, will evolve too. We need to continue the existing collaboration between the fundraising community and the Fundraising Regulator, and to ensure that the support we offer to members of the Chartered Institute continues to complement and enhance the regulatory activities of the Fundraising Regulator.

Perhaps the only thing we need to make sure does not change is the public’s unwavering generosity, their unwavering desire to make the world a better place, perhaps demonstrated more than ever during the pandemic.

I look forward to the continued evolution of fundraising, of the Chartered Institute, and of the Fundraising Regulator, to ensure that the generosity of the UK public is enhanced by our collective work.