These cases prompted the UK Government to launch a review of fundraising in the UK. In July 2015, Sir Stuart Etherington - chief executive of NCVO - was invited to chair the review and it took only around six weeks for the panel to investigate the position and come up with its recommendations. Their September report is over 60 pages long, but in essence the key recommendations are to:
- merge the Institute of Fundraising and the Public Fundraising Association;
- create a new Fundraising Regulator funded by organisations - charities and other organisations - which spend more than £100,000 per annum on fundraising (with statutory regulators also being the 'last line of defence');
- create a new Fundraising Preference Service; and
- shift 'ownership' of the Fundraising Code away from the Institute of Fundraising.
The Etherington Review also recognised that, while it was outside their terms of reference, a key issue which emerged is data protection and the use of data by agencies working for charities. They asked the Information Commissioner to issue specific guidance for charities which fundraise and asked the ICO to specifically address what constitutes 'informed consent'.
In early October, Rob Wilson, Minister for Civil Society, announced that the UK Government had accepted all of the recommendations contained in the Etherington Review and suggested that many of the changes could be implemented by tweaking the content of the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill…a Bill which does not apply to Scotland. This did leave me wondering how these changes might apply to Scottish charities particularly when one bears in mind that charity law is a devolved matter.
SCVO is NCVO's sister organisation, and is tasked with representing Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Just before the publication of the Etherington Review, SCVO published its own report on its review of charity fundraising in Scotland, explaining that the Scottish Government had asked it to undertake an "informal review" because "charity regulation in Scotland is devolved to the Scottish Parliament". Unsurprisingly, given the Etherington Review had not at that point been published (and it does not appear that SCVO was consulted by the Etherington Review), SCVO's recommendations differed from what became the Etherington recommendations.
SCVO concluded that the fundraising landscape in Scotland is different (the suggestion being we do not have quite such aggressive practices) but that a change in culture and greater transparency is needed and that "Scottish charities that operate and fundraise in Scotland were highly likely to believe that a Scottish regulatory body was required".
I was too so when I noticed that SCVO were hosting a conference on the future of fundraising in Scotland on 26 November I signed up to attend. The purpose of the conference was to discuss three possible options for "charities which raise funds in Scotland" (note, not Scottish charities), which were described as:
- accepting the UK-wide position (i.e. follow England and the Etherington recommendations);
- adopt a "Scottish-only approach"; or
- adopt a "hybrid model".
These options were discussed and debated at length over the course of the day. No firm conclusions were reached (that was not the purpose of the conference) nor was there any particularly detailed discussion about how the changes would actually be implemented. Quite a number of people did however express some concern about the impact for charities of having different fundraising regulatory regimes north and south of the border. It's also worth noting that the Scottish Government has confirmed it will not fund any new regime.
At the end of the conference, SCVO was tasked with (i) setting up a Working Party to report back to SCVO in due course. Martin Sime, SCVO's chief executive, also indicated he would be attending the Fundraising Review Summit which was to be held in London on 4 December, which was organised on the back of the Etherington Review, and would seek to represent Scotland's charities at it.
Fundraising Review Summit
I did not attend the Fundraising Review Summit but I see that Hugh Rajodev has summed up the position in an article he has published on civilsocietynews.co.uk here:
"…Martin Sime, chief executive of SCVO, was given a few minutes to highlight the less industrial-scale nature of fundraising in Scotland compared to in England and Wales. He also said that he hoped for a “measured approach” to be taken south of the border."
While Sime’s contribution was endorsed by Etherington at the time, it proved to be the one and only time Scottish fundraising was mentioned throughout.
"SCVO has essentially advocated for a separate Scottish regulator without a Fundraising Preference Service. What then will stop big, cross-border charities from moving fundraising operations to Scotland to circumvent an implemented FPS in England when all this comes out of the wash?"
I can't help but feel that Scotland has been glossed over by the Etherington Review, that the proposed changes are being pushed through, and that Scotland is at risk of either being left behind or dragged along in the race to greater (better?) fundraising regulation. Which way remains to be seen. It certainly seems to me that having different regulation north and south of the border is unlikely to lead to greater public confidence in fundraising activities, which is supposed to be the whole point. My only advice to any organisation (not just charities) which fundraise in Scotland, England or both jurisdictions is to watch this space very carefully indeed.