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Questions your board should be asking about fundraising

By Suzanne McCarthy, Chair of Depaul UK and board member of the Fundraising Regulator

Trustees’ Week is a great annual campaign which showcases the important work that trustees do and highlights opportunities for people from all walks of life to get involved with the charity sector and make a difference. 

As Chair of Depaul UK and board member of the Fundraising Regulator, I am delighted to share with you my experience of fundraising as a subject which trustees should seriously engage with, both in terms of strategy and when monitoring their charity’s work. 

Serving is both a privilege and a responsibility 

Serving as a trustee is a privilege – we are appointed to advance the purposes of charities that we feel passionate about and to always act in their best interest. 

Trustees have a significant degree of responsibility as they are ultimately accountable for their charity’s actions, including their fundraising activities. We have the responsibility to ensure fundraising is carried out in compliance with the law and that it meets the standards in the Code of Fundraising Practice. Throughout our work as trustees, it is critical that we act in the best interests of the charity and in the public’s interests.

If you are a trustee, or considering applying to become a trustee, it is important that you are prepared take ultimate responsibility for the fundraising activities of your charity. No one is asking you to become a fundraising expert – which is why it’s important to take advice when appropriate – but you must be aware of how important fundraising is to achieving your charity’s objectives and what fundraising is being done in the charity’s name.

Commit to the fundraising standards

Alongside advice for trustees from the Charity Commissions for England and Wales and for Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR), the Code of Fundraising Practice is of key importance and applies across the UK.

You should ensure that you are familiar with the principles of the code and especially the standards in section 2, 'Responsibilities of charitable institutions and those who govern them'. 

Questions you should ask about fundraising

Here are some questions your board could discuss to find out if your charity is meeting its fundraising responsibilities.

Has the charity undertaken a risk assessment? 

Your charity must take reasonable steps to assess and manage any risks fundraising poses to the charity’s activities, beneficiaries, property, work and reputation – this includes thinking about how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud or money laundering. You should also consider any reputational risks that a fundraising campaign may pose to your charity.

Our Head of Policy, Priya Warner, recently wrote a blog and participated in a webinar for International Charity Fraud Awareness Week which gave tips on avoiding fundraising fraud. This could be a good starting point.

Does the charity have a policy that clearly lays out how the charity accepts or refuses and uses donations? 

A legal principle underpinning fundraising is that donations must be used for the purpose for which they were given. Changing the purpose of a donation, issuing refunds or refusing donations often requires input from the charity regulator in the country where your charity is registered. Refusal or return of donations can only take place in exceptional circumstances. 

The Institute of Fundraising has published some guidance on acceptance, refusal and return of donations which you may find helpful.

Does the charity have a publicly available procedure for handling fundraising complaints? And, how can the charity learn from the complaints it receives? 

Your charity must have a clear and publicly available complaints procedure which also applies to those who fundraise on your behalf. Your charity should also consider what lessons can be learnt from complaints they receive and how the charity can improve its services and the experience of donors. Read our complaints handling guidance to help guide your discussion.

Does the charity have the required agreements in place when working with others? 

Your charity should ensure agreements with third party fundraisers are in place, that there are systems in place to monitor those relationships and that your charity follows the laws on agreements with professional fundraisers and commercial participators. 

Make sure your charity is familiar with the standards in part two of the code, 'standards which apply to working with others'.

You should also consider any conflicts of interests you have – either real or perceived – as a trustee when working with others. You must follow your charity’s conflicts procedures and disregard any other interests you have when making decisions.

We hope that trustees will use the available resources from the Trustees’ Week website to gain the understanding and tools they need to succeed.

Why not put fundraising as a standing item on your charity board’s agenda?