Charity Commission for England and Wales consultation on draft social media guidance: response from the Fundraising Regulator

In March 2023, the Fundraising Regulator responded to the Charity Commission for England and Wales’ (CCEW) consultation about draft guidance for charities about their use of social media. Our response is in the form of a letter to the consultation team.

Our work with the Charity Commission for England and Wales

We work in partnership with other regulators and representative bodies in the charitable and fundraising sectors to build public confidence and ensure consistent fundraising standards across the UK. We have worked closely with CCEW since we were set up in 2016 to promote best practice in fundraising, provide clear guidance to the sector and investigate or refer complaints where appropriate. Our commitment to working with CCEW is set out in our joint Memorandum of Understanding.

Close working between our organisations, as well as other regulators, is valuable to the fundraising sector. This ensures that charities receive consistent, timely advice and helps to maintain high standards and transparent practices. In our recently published five-year strategy for 2022-27, we commit to continuing this collaborative approach to ensure the public is protected and excellent standards in fundraising are maintained.

Our interest

We regulate all fundraising in England, Wales and Northern Ireland carried out by charitable institutions and third-party fundraisers. This includes:

  • charities registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales and the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland
  • exempt charities (for example, universities in England)
  • other organisations with entirely or predominantly charitable, philanthropic and benevolent objectives (for example, community interest companies)
  • commercial agencies and other organisations employed by charities to raise funds for them; and
  • online fundraising platforms for charitable fundraising.

We regulate fundraising on social media platforms where it is carried out by a charitable institution or third-party fundraiser. Where fundraising is carried out ‘in aid of’ an organisation, without its direct involvement, we will assess on a case-by-case basis whether any responsibility can reasonably be assigned to the charity in respect of the activity concerned.

Unlike many online platforms set up specifically to raise money from the public, social media platforms which sometimes facilitate charitable fundraising (such as Facebook) do not often register with the Fundraising Regulator. 

Our regulation, the Code of Fundraising Practice (the code) and our registration only covers fundraising for ‘charitable, benevolent or philanthropic purposes’. Social media platforms can be used to fundraise or crowdfund for other purposes. If a person or organisation is not fundraising for a charitable organisation (for example, if they claim to be raising funds for a member of their family or a friend in need), this is usually considered ‘personal cause’ fundraising. We do not regulate personal cause fundraising and advise the public to be cautious about this method of fundraising.

Our response

We welcome the opportunity to respond to the CCEW’s draft guidance on social media. The fundraising environment is evolving at speed, and it is important that the sector keeps pace with these changes and is supported by appropriate guidance to do so.

Fundraising organisations are increasingly using social media platforms and digital methods to promote their campaigns. We have seen a corresponding increase in the number of enquiries and complaints we receive from fundraisers and members of the public in this area. We have considered section five of the draft guidance, which relates to fundraising on social media, and have also provided observations on other elements of the guidance, where relevant.

Section five of the draft guidance

Section five of the draft guidance states:

Fundraising on social media

The Code of Fundraising Practice applies to fundraising on social media platforms. The Code outlines both the legal rules that apply to fundraising and the standards designed to ensure that fundraising is open, honest and respectful. The Commission expects all charities that fundraise to fully comply with the Code.

Read Charity fundraising: a guide to trustee duties (CC20)

We are pleased to see CCEW signpost to the Code of Fundraising Practice and emphasise the expectation that charities will comply with it in the draft guidance. The code provides a framework for the behaviour that is expected of all fundraisers and outlines the responsibilities of trustees related to fundraising. The values which underpin the code (legal, open, honest and respectful) apply as equally to social media fundraising as they do to other fundraising methods.

Several sections and standards in the code are cross-cutting and apply to different types of fundraising communications, including social media. For example, standards concerning data protection or imagery used on fundraising materials. As part of our current review of the code taking place across 2022-24, we are considering consulting on adding standards to the code that fundraisers will need to follow when fundraising on social media. We are also considering producing supporting guidance in this area. We will be happy to share our draft proposals with the Commission later this year.

Section five of the CCEW’s draft guidance refers to the code and the standards within it. We also recommend that the CCEW include reference to the Fundraising Regulator as the body which regulates compliance with the code standards in England and Wales. This could be done using the same wording contained in Charity fundraising: a guide to trustee duties (CC20) which states that:

“The Fundraising Regulator regulates charities’ compliance with recognised standards.”

This will ensure charities using the guidance are signposted to the correct regulator and are able to access further information if needed. 

Importance of a social media policy

We welcome the recommendation included in the guidance that charities which use social media should set a social media policy as standard.  Most complaints we receive about social media fundraising relate to ‘in aid of’ or ‘personal cause’ fundraising (for example on Facebook) and are not pursued further as they are outside our regulatory remit. However, we know from our casework that many complaints that are in our remit tend to involve smaller charities, most of which do not have a social media policy in place to guide them. When considering these complaints, where appropriate, we will recommend to charities that they put a social media policy in place. This advice applies whether they are found in breach of the code standards, or not.

Providing smaller charities with the tools to navigate an increasingly complex regulatory environment will be crucial if we are to protect the reputation of the charity sector so that fundraising organisations can thrive and the public retains confidence in charity fundraising. We would be happy to work with CCEW to engage with and support smaller charities to ensure they understand and meet regulatory requirements in a satisfactory way.

Risks arising from social media fundraising

A more general point has emerged from our casework regarding charities working with social media platforms, in particular Facebook. We have heard of a number of incidents relating to charities which fundraise on Facebook and have been unable to contact the platform if something goes wrong. For example, if content needs to be removed.

Social media posts can invite wider commentary and have the potential to reach large audiences. This amplifies the risks associated with public facing campaigns. The scenario above is therefore important for charities to consider when deciding content for a fundraising appeal and the social media chosen to deliver it. We would be happy to provide further information of our experience in this area should this be useful.