Self-reporting fundraising incidents

By Catherine Orr, Head of Casework at the Fundraising Regulator

It has become a cliché, but it is true that this unusual year has prompted a period of self-reflection in many of us: what are we doing, why are we doing it, are we doing it as well as we could be? 

As we approach our fifth anniversary at the Fundraising Regulator, we continue to challenge ourselves to find ways we can regulate more effectively. We are asking ourselves how we can be smarter and more targeted in our interventions, to ensure better outcomes for both the sector we regulate and public we exist to protect.

Strengthening our regulation through intelligence-gathering

Looking ahead to the next five years, we want to strengthen our regulation by making sure that everything we do is led by the intelligence available to us. Gathering and analysing information from all available sources gives us the best possible insights into what is happening within charitable fundraising. This means we can focus our resources on areas of greatest risk and where we are the most appropriate body to achieve change. 

One of these sources of intelligence is the sector itself. Whether that's through the valuable insights we gain from our relationships with individual charities and fundraising organisations; from our engagement with umbrella bodies; from speaking with you at conferences and other events; or through the data that a number of charities report to us every year as part of our Annual Complaints Report. All of this rich and varied information adds to our understanding of the challenges in charitable fundraising and enhances our ability to regulate. 

Developing a pathway for self-reporting

Another way that regulators can find out important information from the organisations they regulate is through the self-reporting of incidents. At our Annual Event earlier this year, we received some questions relating to our self-reporting process, namely do we have one, and how should organisations do this? 

The short answer to the first question is not yet, but we are working on it. Part of our programme of work over the next year is to develop a process for self-reporting. This will provide organisations with a clear and easily understandable pathway to follow when they identify that they have breached the Code of Fundraising Practice. We will be designing a set of criteria and guidance for the sector that will clearly set out our expectations for self-reporting and the circumstances in which this should happen. 

The importance of proportionality

As with every part of our regulation, proportionality will inform the development of our process. We know that organisations may already be reporting to other regulators, whether that's the Charity Commission for England and Wales, Charity Commission for Northern Ireland, the Information Commissioner’s Office, or even the police. We do not want to add to the existing burden, so we will only ask organisations for information where our involvement can add value, and we will do so in a streamlined and coordinated way. 

By doing so, we will be able to provide timely advice and guidance to organisations who may have breached the code. We will also use the incident reports to develop our understanding of any wider risks and will feed this learning back into the sector. That way, we can give organisations the best tools to succeed. 

Developing this process will take time

We want to get this right and this will mean taking time to develop the process in a thoughtful and considered way, as well as to build the additional systems we will need internally to make this work well. We want to share and test our thinking with the sector as we go and give you time to understand and familiarise yourselves with any new policy before we launch it. We hope to be able to update you on our thinking before too long. 

You may be wondering: how should organisations self-report incidents in the meantime? Several organisations already do this each year, and in circumstances where you think your organisation may have breached the code, we encourage you to do so. Although there is no formal requirement to do so, it demonstrates a commitment to the standards in fundraising. It also shows that your organisation takes the expectations placed on you by the code very seriously. In most circumstances, our response will be to record the information and to provide you with any support and advice needed on how to put things right. 

In practical terms, while we develop our new process for self-reporting, the options for doing this are to complete our enquiries form, or if you are unsure about how to do this and want to discuss it first, to call us on 0300 999 3407. We will always be happy to talk it through with you.