Key behaviours you should expect from fundraisers: advice for the public

What is fundraising?

Fundraising is asking for money or other items (for example, food or clothes) usually by registered charities for charitable causes. You might come across fundraising in person, when you are asked on the street, in a shop or at home to support a charitable cause. You might also receive fundraising appeals through post or by email, and it is common to see charities fundraising in newspapers, on the radio or on TV.

The British public generously contributes billions of pounds each year to charities and charitable causes in the UK. Fundraising gives people an opportunity to support the causes they care about and provides the resources that charities need to carry out their work. Fundraising should be a positive experience for all involved. 

Who fundraises?

You may encounter different types of fundraisers, including:

  • Charities: Anyone employed by the charity or from the charity itself (for example, when you receive post or emails asking you to donate to the charity).
  • Volunteers: These are people that are not employed by the charity but give their time to help raise funds. Usually, they are volunteering directly for a charity, but sometimes they are fundraising without the charity’s knowledge and will then donate funds raised to the charity. 
  • Fundraising agencies: These fundraisers are employed by a fundraising company that is paid to fundraise on behalf of a charity. Typically, they carry out telephone and street fundraising, as well as house-to-house collections. Charities and fundraising agencies will have formal agreements in place and must be open with you about how much they are being paid to fundraise for a charity. 
  • Commercial partners: Charities will often have partnerships with businesses which will fundraise to support the charity. This will sometimes be based on what is called ‘commercial participation.’ For example, a leading brand promotes the sale of goods on the basis that they will donate a certain proportion of the proceeds to a charity. This could be, for instance, a supermarket that donates a certain percentage of proceeds to a named charity for every Christmas card it sells.

You may be asked to donate to other charitable institutions which are not registered charities but which fundraise for social and community benefit. These can include community pubs, heritage societies or housing associations. 

You may also be asked to give a donation to a charity online by using a fundraising platform. A funding platform is a website or application run by a commercial company, not-for-profit organisation, charitable institution or a person, which charitable institutions can use for fundraising or which people or organisations can use for crowdfunding for charitable, philanthropic and benevolent purposes.

Online fundraising platforms are a popular and easy way for charity and volunteer fundraisers to appeal for donations for a charitable cause. We have published guidance to help fundraisers using online platforms to raise funds in a clear and safe way.

How is fundraising regulated?

A charity’s Board of Trustees has overall responsibility for fundraising and for ensuring that fundraising activity is carried out legally and ethically.

From street fundraising to large-scale fundraising events, the Fundraising Regulator regulates all fundraising in England, Wales and Northern Ireland carried out by charitable institutions, as well as the agencies and businesses they work with to fundraise on their behalf. We also regulate fundraising in Scotland by charities which are primarily registered with the Charity Commission in England and Wales. The Scottish Fundraising Adjudication Panel regulates fundraising carried out by charities only registered in Scotland.

You may also come across members of the public fundraising directly for a cause or a person in need (for example, new equipment for a disabled family member or medical support for a friend or relative). This type of fundraising is not for a charity.

While members of the public are free to ask for donations for a cause that is not connected to a charitable institution, this type of activity is not regulated by the Fundraising Regulator.

The Code of Fundraising Practice: What to expect from fundraisers

Our Code of Fundraising Practice (the code) sets out the standards for all charitable fundraising throughout the UK to ensure this is carried out ethically and in a way which protects members of the public, donors, charities and their service users. The following information is designed to help you understand the fundraising standards you can expect when you are asked to donate. 

There are specific rules and regulations in place depending on the method of fundraising activity (for example, using collection buckets on the street or running a lottery competition) and the type of fundraiser (for example, whether they are a volunteer, a charity or an agency). However, all charitable fundraising must meet the same four key values which are fundamental to all fundraising and underline the code: it must be open, honest, respectful and legal. Fundraising must not only be done with integrity and respect for the public but must also be carried out in a way that meets legal requirements.

These four key values guide all fundraising to create a meaningful and positive experience for donors.

Fundraising openly means, for example, that:

  • You can expect fundraisers to listen to and answer, within reason, questions or concerns you may have about their cause. We have put together some advice on questions you can ask fundraisers before agreeing to give.

Fundraising honestly means, for example, that:

  • You can expect fundraisers to be open and honest and to not mislead you about any aspect of their fundraising. For example, if they give you a statistic to explain the need to fundraise for a particular cause, they should be able to say where the statistic comes from. If they cannot, they should be honest about this.

Fundraising respectfully means, for example, that:

  • You can expect fundraisers to treat you politely at all times.
  • You should never feel unduly pressured into donating to a charity or a cause. For example, if you tell a fundraiser that you are not interested in supporting their cause, they must respect your decision and move on.
  • You can expect fundraisers to not unfairly criticise or insult other people or organisations. 
  • You can expect fundraisers to not encourage you to cancel or change an existing donation to one charity in favour of their own or another. 
  • You can expect fundraisers and any fundraising materials to communicate in a way that is not likely to cause offence, fear or distress. For example, a fundraising appeal letter or email from a charity supporting cancer research should not without justifiable reason include a potentially shocking claim or image just to attract attention.
  • You can expect that if you, or someone you care for, are in vulnerable circumstances (due to, for example, age, mental health, disability, learning difficulties, language barriers or financial hardship), then these needs will be carefully considered by fundraisers before they ask for support. Crucially, if you, or a family member or friend, do not have the capacity to make an informed decision about donating, then fundraisers must not accept a donation. 
  • You can expect house-to-house collections to take place at a reasonable time. This should not take place before 9am Monday-Saturday or before 10am on Sundays and public holidays, or after 9pm on any day.

Fundraising legally means, for example, that:

  • You can expect fundraisers asking for support in public (for example, in a shopping centre or at your door) to have a permit or licence to collect money. Local authorities and the police are usually responsible for issuing these permits.
  • You can expect fundraisers collecting direct debit donations to have an ID badge clearly showing the details of the charity for which they are raising funds.
  • You can expect businesses fundraising on behalf of charities to have formal agreements with those charities. For example, if a company is donating a percentage of profits gained from selling items such as Christmas cards or bottles of water, they must have a formal contract in place before fundraising.
  • You can expect agencies fundraising on behalf of charities to tell you how much they are being paid by the charity in connection with an appeal (or an estimate if they don’t know an exact amount). An individual fundraiser working for an agency is, however, not required to tell you how much they are being paid as an employee of that agency.
  • You can expect your personal information to be handled in line with data protection laws and with your consent if a fundraiser takes your details to process a donation. 

All fundraising must meet the requirements of the law. While the code includes standards which reflect the law, it is, however, not designed to be a legal handbook. Fundraising law is complex and comes from many sources. Fundraisers themselves are responsible for making sure they meet relevant requirements of the law. The list above represents just a few common examples of how fundraisers must consider the legal requirements of their fundraising.

What should I do if I have a question or concern about fundraising?

It is important that you feel confident that fundraising is being carried out in a fair, ethical and legal way. To help you make an informed decision, we have put together key advice on safer giving.

You can use our directory to find out whether a fundraising organisation has registered with us and made a commitment to fundraising in a way that follows the standards in the Code of Fundraising Practice.

If you do have any questions or concerns, you should first contact the charity directly. This is often the quickest and most effective way to resolve an issue and it gives the charity the opportunity to respond to you directly. 

If you do not think that the charity has addressed your concerns or you do not feel comfortable speaking with the charity directly, you can contact the Fundraising Regulator.