Charity bags: guidance for fundraisers

View any updates made to the page, with the most recent listed first.

16 June 2021: changes made to the advice on communicating what proportion of proceeds will be given to a charity in the commercial participator agreement and solicitation statement.

4 November 2020: first published.

Millions of charity bags are delivered to members of the public every year across the UK. They are a legitimate form of fundraising and an important source of income for many charities. For many people, charity bags are an easy way to support causes, but for others they may be unwelcome.

This guidance is intended to support charities and the companies they work with to understand the legal requirements and regulatory standards expected of them when distributing and collecting charity bags. These companies may commonly be known as third-party fundraisers, but in most instances, they are specifically working as commercial participators.

This guidance also sets out the common themes in the complaints we have received about charity bags and lessons learnt from our investigations.

To complement this piece of guidance, we have also published guidance for the public to help people understand what they can expect when they receive a charity bag, including how they can make it clear they don’t want to receive charity bags and how to raise a complaint. 

Legal and regulatory requirements

Although charities will sometimes independently distribute and collect charity bags themselves, this is more often done by commercial participators on behalf of a charity. When a charity works with a third-party to distribute and collect charity bags on its behalf, it is crucial that both parties meet legal and regulatory requirements. All organisations must abide by legislation as set out in the House to House Collections Act 1939 and follow the standards set out in the Code of Fundraising Practice (the code).

Section 8.2 of the code sets out the standards around licences and permissions. You must ensure you have the correct licence, if needed. 

Section 7 of the code sets out the requirements that charities must follow if they are working with a commercial participator. This includes making sure that all fundraisers work to the standards in the code and that effective monitoring of activity is in place to ensure all parties are keeping to the conditions of the commercial participator agreement.

You can find more information on commercial participator agreements in standards 7.2.15 to 7.2.17 of the code. They should always include:

  • a statement of the main aims of the agreement and how the parties will achieve those aims;
  • details of what proportion of the price of the goods or services will be given to the charity or how much money the commercial participator will donate in connection with selling or supplying the collected goods; and
  • how much the commercial participator will receive as payment or for expenses.

You must also have performance review procedures in the agreement (see standard 7.2.4 of the code).

There is no commercial participator legislation for Northern Ireland, but we recommend that charities fundraising in Northern Ireland follow the legal requirements in Scotland, England and Wales as best practice.

Information that should be made available to the public 

Every distributed charity bag must clearly include the following information to allow members of the public to make an informed decision when donating: 

  • A solicitation statement: it is a legal requirement under the Charities Act 1992 for third-party fundraisers (including commercial participators) to provide the public with a solicitation statement when asking for money or property, or saying that money from a commercial promotional venture will be paid to a charitable institution or used for charitable, philanthropic or benevolent purposes. See standard 2.5.7 and section 7.4 of the code. 
  • The charity’s name and registration number: if the charity has a gross annual income of over £10,000, this information must be on the front and back of the bag.
  • The commercial participator’s name, registration number and place of registration: if using a commercial participator, this information must be on the front and back of the bag.
  • The amount to be given to a charity: what proportion of the money raised will be given to the charity, as outlined in your written commercial participator agreement. This amount could be the cost of the goods and services, the proceeds of the promotion or the donations made in connection with the sale or supply of the collected goods.
  • The Fundraising Badge: this may only be displayed if the charity and/or commercial participator is registered with us. 

The Advertising Standards Authority has also produced guidance on what needs to be included on charity bags.

Although it is not a regulatory or legal requirement to share your commercial participator agreement with the public, it is good practice to have information available (for example, on your website) that explains this method of fundraising and the terms of your agreement. This is a good opportunity for you to be transparent about your fundraising and help the public understand why you fundraise in this way. 

We recommend that you share information on:

  • Why you fundraise using charity bags. For example, what benefit does this method of fundraising bring to your charity and how are donated clothes used to raise funds?
  • What the money raised will be spent on – see solicitation statements in section 7.4 of the code;
  • The relationship between your charity and the commercial participator. Explaining this might help answer any questions from the public about how much money the activity generates for your charitable purposes;
  • Where you distribute charity bags;
  • What members of the public can do if they do not want to receive your charity bags; and
  • What members of the public can do if they want to raise a concern or complaint about your use of charity bags. 

Complaints about charity bags

Complaints about charity bags make up a significant proportion of the complaints escalated to the Fundraising Regulator. The most common reason for complaints is charity bags being delivered to a household despite the presence of a ‘No charity bags’ sign. Other common complaints relate to charity bags being delivered to a restricted address (where the charity has previously agreed not to deliver charity bags) and environmental concerns. You can read more about these complaints in our Annual Complaints Report

You must respect a member of the public’s wish to not receive charity bags. This is set out in standard 8.4.9 of the code. If a member of the public receives a charity bag after clearly displaying a ‘No charity bags’ sign, both the charity and the commercial participator are at risk of being found to have breached the code. 

It is your responsibility to ensure that all charity bag distributors have proper training to recognise and respond appropriately when they encounter a ‘No charity bags’ sign. You can find further information on the standards relating to this in section 8 of the code.

Environmental concerns from complaints

The environmental impact of charity bags (usually single-use plastics) as a method of fundraising is an area of growing concern for the public. This is a complex issue and you may want to consider explaining that your charity understands the environmental impact and what steps you are doing to mitigate this.

Learning from investigations

We publish summaries of our investigations on a quarterly basis, and several of these have been about charity bags. We recommend reading these if you are fundraising in this way. The investigation summaries set out recommendations for both charities and the commercial participators they work with, which you may find helpful when planning and reflecting on your activity. 

Common recommendations from our charity bag investigations include: 

  • Ensuring that all reasonable efforts to monitor commercial participators have been put in place, for example, around ensuring ongoing compliance with the code;
  • Ensuring there is effective training for commercial participators, including training materials on the code and training on avoiding households with ‘No charity bags’ signs, and ensuring this training is monitored;
  • Reviewing the effectiveness of systems for identifying and communicating restricted or ‘no call’ addresses; and
  • Reviewing the charity’s complaints handling processes and how lessons are learned and implemented.

Handling complaints

Section 2.4 of the code sets out the requirements around complaints procedures and we have produced guidance on complaints handling. This guidance has been designed to help fundraising organisations when dealing with complaints about fundraising, setting out how the Fundraising Regulator defines a complaint and how organisations are expected to handle the complaints they receive.

This guidance is relevant for all fundraisers, including those employed by a charity or working for a third-party fundraising organisation. We recommend that you use this guidance when planning and reviewing your charity bag fundraising activity and when writing and updating relevant agreements.