Imagine you’re a board game designer. What do you need to think about to make sure that those taking part have a good time playing? The answer is more boring than you might expect…
It’s the rules. As much as we might like to complain about them (believe me I do!) or say that they spoil the fun, they are there for good reasons. Rules ensure that everyone is treated fairly and that no one cheats (remember the family arguments over monopoly at Christmas!)
The rules of fundraising
This analogy can also be applied to fundraising. Excellent fundraising, like a good board game, is underpinned by a set of rules. Whilst I would be the first to admit that fundraising is much more important than a game of Scrabble, there are important similarities.
If rules are unnecessarily complex, unclear or incorrect, then we should not be surprised that some fundraisers have difficulties complying with them. Equally, if they are clear, then fundraisers can have no excuse about falling short of expected standards of conduct.
This is why the proposed new Code of Fundraising Practice deserves special attention. The recent 10-week consultation on the new Code had a different emphasis to previous consultations conducted by the Fundraising Regulator (FR). The FR set out to make the Code a more accessible document for fundraisers with any level of experience. Rather than focusing on regulatory changes, they have put a lot of hard work into making the Code easier to understand and navigate.
IoF’s interpretation of the Code
At the Institute of Fundraising, we support the changes they have made. Our response addressed the main changes that the FR proposed; including a new introduction, a restructuring of the Code’s content and the streamlining of the Code through the deletion of old rules and the mergers of rules where there is unnecessary repetition. We support each of these changes, although we acknowledge that there is still work to be done.
For example, the simplification of the language used throughout the Code has been very helpful. The Plain English review of the Code sought to remove jargon, reduce unnecessary repetition and ensure that standards are expressed as straightforwardly as possible. In this respect, the Code is much easier to read and use than before.
That’s not to say that everything’s now perfect. The use of the term ‘you’ throughout the Code has created a few new problems. For instance, it has caused some confusion around attributing liability for the breaking of rules. Whilst it is important that this is made clearer, it is always worth remembering that Rome wasn’t built in a day and we should congratulate the FR for the work that they have done so far.
A necessary restructure
Elsewhere, the FR has also made improvements. The restructure of the Code has been possibly the most eye-catching change of all. Whilst we can appreciate that this may take a bit of time to get used to, it’s something we should be all getting behind.
The logic behind the change is simple - to make fundraisers aware of general fundraising rules and those rules that are specific to particular fundraising practices. This marks a major improvement over previous versions of the Code.
It will also be easier for those new to fundraising to find information in the updated Code; helpfully, a contents page has been added.
We also support the inclusion of a new glossary to help people understand key terms used throughout the document. We do have some concerns though: several terms are defined differently in the glossary compared with how they are commonly understood in practice by fundraisers. This needs further review to prevent confusion.
An online resource
As significant as the recent changes are, most users of the Code will be using it as an online resource, not a pdf. So it’s vital that the FR get their approach to this right. What could this look like? We have made several recommendations in our consultation response such as including pop-out boxes and hyperlinks to guidance. There is a real opportunity for the Code to become a superb example of an interactive regulatory resource - if the FR continue to collaborate with the sector effectively.
The transitional period
For all of the good work that the FR has done so far, the issue of the transition period still needs addressing. Getting ready for the new Code will take time and effort. We shouldn’t expect every charity to be ready overnight and we hope that the FR allow an appropriate amount of time for charities to update their policies and procedures, depending on the changes that are brought in. It is important that charities, regardless of size, have sufficient time to prepare.
Finally, experienced users of the current Code may think if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. We can understand this sentiment, but we argue that it’s more important to look at the bigger picture.
We hope our response will contribute to improving an already strong framework of regulation and make sure that 2019 is a great year for fundraising.
Sam Boyle is Policy and Information Officer at the IoF