What we’ve learned from answering enquiries from charities and the public

By Edward Brown, former Standards Officer at the Fundraising Regulator 

Let’s set the scene. The phone rings from an unknown number. You don’t know who it is. You pick up with a sense of anticipation and answer. It’s a charity fundraiser with a question for you … what do you do?

In my case, I reach for my well-thumbed copy of the Code of Fundraising Practice and say ‘OK, how can I help?’ I never know what someone will be about to ask me, but here at the Fundraising Regulator we’re ready to listen to and understand your fundraising conundrums.

We’re here to answer your questions

Our policy team runs our enquiries service, allowing members of the public, fundraisers and anyone else working in the charitable sector to ask questions about fundraising standards. This is just one way we support people to meet the standards in the Code of Fundraising Practice.

Since the Fundraising Regulator was established in 2016, we have responded to over 4,000 enquiries. Most questions come from charities and professional fundraisers who have either not come in to contact with our code before, and need an introduction to the relevant standards, or would like further guidance on how it applies to their specific situation. Members of the public often get in touch to find out if they can fundraise and how to do it legally.

Most frequently asked questions

Analysis of enquiries made over the past few months tells us that the areas of fundraising that we are asked about most frequently are; events, public collections (both one-off and regular donations) and private site collections (like those held in a shop or a pub). 

The questions are often about

  • different ways of collecting donations; 
  • getting the correct permissions and licences;
  • third party involvement in fundraising; and
  • individual responsibilities and liabilities.

There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer when it comes to fundraising; every day brings new scenarios to think through. Understanding what the enquirer is hoping to achieve is important for us to give the right advice, and often there will be other areas of the code to highlight that they have not yet considered in their planning. 

Providing the right advice and developing our guidance

By speaking, listening and responding to our enquirers we get to know the issues they face, what kind of advice or guidance they might need and where we are able to share learning from others who have asked similar questions. 

Running the service also helps us to form a picture of the fundraising landscape and what matters to both those asking for donations and being asked to donate. This informs our development of the code and supporting guidance.

Sometimes, another organisation is best placed to answer

Occasionally, we are asked questions that fall outside of what we regulate and we are not the right organisation to answer these questions. For example, sometimes issues are concerned with the governance of a charity rather than fundraising standards, and we will often direct these to a more appropriate organisation such as the Charity Commissions for England and Wales or Northern Ireland, or OSCR in Scotland.

People who contact us may assume that because a legal requirement appears in the code we are either responsible for enforcing the law, or able to provide legal advice. We are not lawyers and we are limited in the advice and guidance we can give where another organisation is responsible for enforcing a law. 

Where we can, we will give appropriate guidance. We may offer an opinion based on our experience, but we will be clear when it isn’t our place to comment definitively. Sometimes we may suggest you seek independent legal advice. 

Seven in 10 people have a positive experience of using our service

We aim to answer your queries in a timely, reasonable and helpful way. We recently surveyed organisations who are registered with us and are pleased that 69% said they had a positive experience of using our service. We will publish more results from this survey later in the spring.

The most satisfying part of the work I do is helping someone to achieve their fundraising goals in a way that meets the code. If you have a question that relates to fundraising, please do ask us. We will do what we can to help.

You can contact our enquiries service via our online form or call 0300 999 3407.