Charity Fundraising Summit Meeting

Earlier this month, the Charity Commision and Fundraising Regulator held a meeting with the country's major online fundraising platforms in a bid to address issues of transparency and public perception.

The meeting, in which measures to be implemented in the future were agreed upon, saw 14 of the major online fundraising platforms (including Wonderful) represented by some of their senior representatives. It was a timely event, as concerns have been mounting within the sector and the general public about how fundraising platforms are being run, and where donations are going. There have also been questions raised about fraudulent fundraising pages set up after large scale events such as the Westminster terror attack.

Can fundraising be a business? And is that okay?

The meeting comes after astounding figures were released on the profits which were made by some fundraising platforms from donations following the terrorist attack in Manchester, which amounted to around £100,000, with profits then being increased up to £390,000 when combined with the money donated in aid of Grenfell fire.

Events such as these are, understandably, causing people to question why some of these seemingly giving-oriented fundraising platforms were really created, and whether for-profit websites are the right choice for online fundraising. Generally, donors aren't giving their money in the hopes that it will reach the owners of the funraising sites, but rather to help worthy causes and valiant efforts all over the world.

A need for clarity and transparency

Concerns have stretched into the UK government, with parliamentarians adding their voice to the growing chorus of complaints about how some fundraising pages work. One key worry is fraudulent activity, such as the fake accounts which have sprung up following high-profile tragedies like the Manchester bombing.

Others are drawing attention to oversights being made about how funds are actually being used at the end of the process, and similarly about the fees that some platforms charge fundraisers, charities, or donors. There is a general need for more clarity and availability of information regarding what exactly is happing to donor's money.

Thankfully, the meeting of these fundraising platforms saw many of these issues being addressed head-on, and resulted in all those present agreeing to a revision of the fundraising code of practice. The aim is that the many benefits of online fundraising will be preserved, and the funds raised for wonderful charities by kind-hearted fundraisers protected.

What was discussed?

Specifically, these were the topics of discussion and the steps agreed upon:

  • the importance of fundraising platforms in their ability to connect people and communities from all around the world with willing sponsors, and the way which this significance is projected to increase in the future.

  • there was a general consensus that a particular challenge exists in tackling the tension between how rapidly the public responds to large-scale, high-profile events, and the speed at which the corresponding charities can actually use or distribute the funds which are raised. In attempting to alleviate this tension, the representatives committed their expertise and that of their colleagues in order to review government and civil society responses to crises.

  • it was decided that more can be done to deliver a clear and consistent message across all platforms to ensure that there is no confusion about things such as accountability to the Charity Commission, eligibility for Gift Aid, and the consequences of a failed appeal.

  • all the giving platforms will equally work to convey a clear and consistent message to the public about all choices which are available for donating, and the consequences of these choices.

  • all of the websites assured the commission and regulator that robust counter-fraud systems are in place, with more information on these systems to follow so that ministers and regulators can review it fully. For their part, the Charity Commission and Fundraising Regulator both committed to collaborate with all of the giving platforms to review their resilience to fraud, and to create a forum in which advice and warnings of possible fraud can be shared.

  • each of the platforms agreed that there exists a real, legal responsibility to be absolutely transparent with donors about what proportion of the money they donate is going to reach the charity, and about the fees that are being charged.

  • the Fundraising Regulator is in the process of reviewing the Code of Fundraising Practice, with a view to updating and expanding the rules outlined within this Code. The website present at the meeting will also be included in this process of review.

  • third party fundraisers, including online fundraising platforms, can now register with the Fundraising Regulator. This grants these platforms a chance to show to the public their commitment to meeting the very highest standards for fundraising.

  • the Fundraising Regulator also encouraged the platforms to engage in responding to and resolving any complaints and concerns expressed by the public. In turn, the platforms will inform the Regulator of the processes they have implemented to allow the public to make direct complaints.

The contents and results of the meeting are to be collated and reported to the Minister for Civil Society by the Charity Commission and the Fundraising regulator. This will allow for a full assessment of the adequacy of the regulatory framework which is now in place.

There is no doubt that common goals and unity in tackling them can only serve to strengthen and improve fundraising platforms, their efficiency, and their reputation within the general public. This meeting seems to offer a very promising ray of hope for the future of fundraising.

Looking forward

Hopefully, this signifies a big step forward for fundraising platforms, crucial at a time in which their integrity and purpose is, in some cases, being severely questioned. Increased clarity and openness will help to preserve the all-important public perception of reliability which is key to any organisation involved in processing peoples money, but particularly where it involves charitable fundraising and sensitive causes. Much more importantly, though, it will allow fundraisers to make a much more informed choice when they are planning fundraising activities.

Ideally, we will see all websites create pages like our How We Stack Up page, which even uses tables and colour-coding to give as clear a possible presentation of different fundraising platforms fees, and how much money ends up going to charity. That way, more and more people can start choosing the platforms which ensure that 100% of every single donation, and 100% of any corresponding Gift Aid, is passed onto the charity in question - as it is intended to be, and as it should be.