No complaints about Scottish fundraising

Collecting tin cropped

Alison Elliot on the state of fundraising in Scotland following the launch of the Scottish Fundraising Standards Panel

19th September 2017 by TFN 0 Comments

It’s been said that the highest praise a Scot can give is "I’ve no complaints". On that basis, charity fundraising in Scotland is in great shape!

Last year the Scottish Fundraising Standards Panel was set up to assist the charitable sector in Scotland to regulate itself as regards fundraising. We are charged with overseeing fundraising standards, and we can adjudicate complaints that a charity cannot resolve itself. We’re a small but experienced voluntary group of seven plus a chair, supported by one paid member of staff. So this is light touch regulation.

The reason for not going down the route of appointing a large fundraising regulator as they have in England was the belief that Scotland’s needs are different in this area. For a start, we have very few large charities based in Scotland that are in a position to outsource their fundraising, which is where a lot of the trouble can happen. Conversely, there are lots of small charities who don’t immediately fit in with the assumptions behind the Code of Fundraising Practice, to which they are, nonetheless, accountable. And people in Scotland seemed to be more content with fundraising practices than they were in England. 

Alison Elliot

Alison Elliot

Luckily, that last point seems to be borne out by the fact that the panel hasn’t yet had a formal complaint to investigate. We know of some disquiet, but it’s not on the scale they have down south, where the regulator has around four complaints a month that merit investigation. When a complaint does come to us, we will take it seriously and work with other regulators to ensure that the public can be comfortable about making donations and that charities can be confident that their practice meets high standards.

So far, so good. But we mustn’t be complacent. We should remember that it was a big scandal about fundraising that prompted the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) to be set up in the first place. People don’t suddenly don haloes when they cross the border. Perhaps people don’t know that they should get in touch with us. But they complain plenty to OSCR about other things, but not about fundraising.   

So, let’s concentrate on keeping standards high. The fundraising landscape is well supplied with organisations that can give advice and guidance. The Institute of Fundraising promotes excellent fundraising by its members and its new Scottish Standards Board is looking at how to tailor advice for smaller charities. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is committed to ensuring that the sector is above reproach because the reputational damage of poor behaviour quickly spreads across the board. And OSCR is currently consulting on draft fundraising guidance, so take time to let them know what you think.

There’s no point in us replicating this activity, even if we could, and we recognise that we’re part of a network of agencies trying to help charities navigate the culture change that is being demanded of them. That change is considerable and charity trustees have a lot of detailed demands on their plates these days.

When the detail becomes overwhelming, it’s worth stepping back and thinking about the big picture. Charities are a key part of the social fabric and have an impact on all our lives. Some of us encounter a charity as a beneficiary, others as a contributor, whether we give our time as a volunteer, our skill as a member of staff, or our money as a donor. Lubricating the whole process are the funds our fundraisers secure. Rather than pitting donors against fundraisers, if we respect the part each other plays, we can strengthen the whole system, to everyone’s benefit.   

Alison Elliot is chair of the Scottish Fundraising Standards Panel.

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