Rob Wilson – 2016 Speech on Fundraising Week


Below is the text of the speech made by Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, at the British Film Institute in London on 19 April 2016.

t’s a real pleasure to open the event today. I hope Fundraising Week 2016 is a huge success and will support people to take positive steps towards responsible and sustainable fundraising.

Let me first of all express my sincere thanks to Stephen Cook for his great work as editor of Third Sector over the years. Like many in this room, I have been grilled by him in the past. I’m sure his colleagues will give him a great send off and will gladly opt-in to being asked for money for the leaving gift.

On a more serious note – it’s great to see so many charities represented here today, positively engaging with fundraising and making it a central focus of their activities.

And you are right to do so. According to the Charities Aid Foundation, the UK is the most generous nation in Europe, and one of the most generous in the world – it’s in our DNA as a country.

Three quarters of people have donated to charity in the previous year, one of the highest rates anywhere in the world and voluntary income has remained strong. Now all of this is really heartening news.

So let me start by saying this: I absolutely understand that you need to “ask” in order to fundraise.

Fundraising enables you to do the vital work which is at the heart of all your organisations. And that is why it is so important to get it right.

You’ll all be aware that this is an issue I care very deeply about.

I am determined to see charities move on from poor practice, and come out stronger.

But that’s only possible if all of you here today meet the high expectations of the generous British public.

This means putting supporters back at the heart of fundraising activities and ensuring that charitable aims are only ever achieved by charitable means.

Fundraising is the principal – and sometimes only – way in which the public interacts with a charity. It is in effect the “shop window” for your organisations. So it needs to be done in a way that reflects your core values and those of the sector as a whole.

This means respect and care – not only for beneficiaries and donors – but also crucially for those who choose not to support your charities.

Impact of poor practice

We have all seen the devastating impact that poor fundraising practices – of even a few – can have on the entire sector.

– Recent YouGov figures show that 62% of the public think that poor fundraising behaviour has damaged the sector as a whole

– Hundreds of letters from members of the public have been written to me echoing their concerns about the way in which they have been contacted by charities

– Public trust and confidence in charities overall has plummeted – on one measure, more people now trust supermarkets over charities

Though you are still faring better than politicians and I’m afraid even journalists Andy. But seriously: these numbers show that, for many, the word charity no longer invokes warmth and pride. Instead it arouses suspicion.

This state of affairs is incredibly damaging to the long term sustainability of the sector. Charities need to do everything in their power to meet this challenge absolutely head on.

This means actively reassuring the general public that each one of you:

– operates to the highest standards

– will always treat people with respect

– will spend as much as possible on frontline services.

What worried me most about the recent YouGov reputation research was there was a significant number of people who thought larger charities were not taking the problem seriously enough.

Moving on from poor practice

Now back in December I said fundraising was at a crossroads. I am heartened to see that the vast majority of charities have chosen to go down what I regard as the right path.

The one that:

– supports a stronger self-regulator

– allows the public a genuine say about whether they wish to be contacted for fundraising

– and will help the sector restore the public trust and confidence on which the sectors future depends

This is evident in the way that almost all of the charities asked to fund the setup of the Fundraising Regulator have responded positively. It’s a visible sign to the public and Government that they see the value in having effective, sector-wide regulation in place.

I am sure you will be aware that Michael Grade and Stephen Dunmore have made great progress in this area.

At this point, I would also like to commend the senior leadership of the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) for constructively engaging in the handover process and ensuring that the new regulator will have the best possible start.

Thanks to their hard work, and the work of Stephen’s team, the new Fundraising Regulator will open its doors this summer.

All of you here today should have firm plans to register your organisations. This will show your commitment to support responsible, sustainable fundraising for the future.

Now, regaining trust doesn’t need to be lengthy process. If we collectively act to champion best practice then we will be able to rebuild relations with the public and win back their support.

There are many who think that by giving self-regulation a second chance we’ve not gone far enough. As I took the Charities Bill through Parliament it was clear to me that all parties across the chamber wanted swift and firm action.

I want self regulation to work. And my commitment to you is that I will continue to support the new Fundraising Regulator by defending self regulation.

However as I have said before, I will intervene should it become necessary. That is not a threat, it’s simply a promise.

Sector leadership

I know that many of you have improved your approach to fundraising over the past six months. And, I am a firm believer that the most important changes in the sector need to come from you.

We have already seen positive changes to the Fundraising Code of Practice that address some of the most pervasive issues around data protection that were uncovered last summer.

Overall, the Code – and the Institute of Fundraising’s stewardship of it – has served fundraisers, charities and the public over the past 30 years.

But we need to make sure that it will improve and prosper over the next 30 years too. Which is why the Code should become clearly independent from the interests of the profession and move to the new regulator.

In talking of positive progress I want to single out Charities Aid Foundation for praise in the wide range of support it is providing for the new fundraising regulator.

Some individual charities have also shown particular leadership in respecting and empowering their donors.

I want to acknowledge the commitments by RNLI, Cancer Research UK and the British Red Cross to move to an opt-in only system for their fundraising communications. This will not only give the public a greater say over their data and preferences but also stop charities wasting resources on those who do not wish to hear from them.

On that same note I am encouraged to see progress on the Fundraising Preference Service (FPS).

Evidence shows the FPS is key to restoring trust in charities.

According to YouGov, 72% of the general public surveyed feel this way. Other research has put general support for the service at over 60%.

Now I understand that the uncertainty over the short term impact of this may be uncomfortable for you sitting in the audience today. But whatever you think might happen to your income as a consequence of the FPS will be nothing compared to losing the long-term trust and goodwill of the public.

It is important to remember that the FPS is a service at the end of the day. Those who may feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of fundraising communications and want to say ‘no more’ absolutely have a right to do so.

Sir Stuart and the cross-party panel of peers were right to recognise this in their review of fundraising regulation last summer and I congratulate them on their determination to uphold charities’ long-term reputation with the public.

Thanks to their continued leadership, a working group of charity leaders and service experts will design an FPS that works for everybody.

The proposals I have seen so far are promising and – once finalised – I hope the Fundraising Regulator will ensure their swift implementation.

The future of fundraising

All of the changes I see – driven by the regulators, the government and you – are part of a wider reform process to become more sustainable.

I am supporting this – for example – through the Small Charities Fundraising Training Programme that I recently launched. This is designed to help small charities to fundraise more effectively through a significant number of training opportunities, such as face-to-face workshops, webinars and advice sessions.

Innovative approaches to fundraising will become key because the generous post-war generation that was receptive to mail and telephone fundraising cannot be relied upon forever.

Instead charities need to find new ways to engage younger people who will not be persuaded by persistent asks but instead want to be inspired on a personal level.

We have seen the success of innovative fundraising approaches everywhere. Whether it’s getting people to participate in engaging events such as Save the Children’s ‘Christmas Jumper Day’ or using new technologies such as the WWF has done for its ‘endangered emoji’ campaign. Innovation is out there and we all need to continue to find new ways to connect with the public.

What’s more – the latest NCVO Almanac data shows that we are seeing unprecedented levels of youth engagement with charities.

Initiatives such as NCS and the #iwill campaign encourage young people to get involved with charities and their community from an early age.

I am a firm believer that embedding community participation early on in life builds the perfect basis for lifelong engagement with the voluntary sector.

2015’s Youth Social Action Survey showed that over half of those participating in social action had donated money or goods in the past year.

Now, a brilliant example of this is 10 year old #iwill Ambassador Ryan Bickle, from Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, who fundraises in his local community showing that you can’t be too young to get involved!

He first got involved in social action after his Grandfather died, raising money for his hospice and it’s not stopped since. For example last Christmas, he fundraised £800 for the Cumbrian flood relief fund by carol singing!

Another 10 year old #iwill Ambassador is Lucy Bowie from Renfrewshire, Scotland who fundraised for Marie Curie Cancer Care by doing a sponsored walk, after getting involved with social action as part of Girlguiding Scotland. Overall she has helped to raise well over £2,000 for her chosen charities.

It’s examples like these that show the potential that is just waiting to be unlocked all across the country.

Securing income for the future

As you take the lead in meeting the challenges of fundraising for the future, I will continue to challenge, innovate and help you build a strong and sustainable sector. One that the UK can be proud of.

In doing so we have to listen to Lucy and Ryan’s generation.

Alongside getting active in their local communities, research shows that 75% of Millennials also care about companies giving back and prioritising more than just profits.

This is why I want to create a social economy where everyone has a genuine choice over how their money is managed in line with their values.

This could involve creating dedicated pension products and ISAs. I am already looking at ways to enable ‘everyday social investors’ to back causes they care about.

This is on top of establishing the world’s first social investment bank, with contributions from the big four high street banks, to bringing in Social Investment Tax Relief.

But there are even more ways to unlock the social economy.

We have launched a Dormant Assets Commission, similar to the successful Dormant Bank Accounts scheme.

Former Big Society Capital chief executive Nick O’Donohoe is identifying pools of unclaimed assets including stocks and shares that have laid untouched for 15 years.

We are hoping that an estimated one billion pounds will be unlocked for good causes through the Commission.

But there is also more we can do to ensure that opportunities are available to all organisations across the voluntary sector.

In particular I want to look at what we can do to help small and medium sized charities. They are the ones who often achieve the best impact in their local areas and who sometimes struggle in the shadow of their larger cousins.

So I’ve asked my team to look at ways to enable small and medium charities to use their ideas and talent to improve outcomes for public services across the country.

We know that charities make a huge difference and reach some of the most difficult to reach communities.

I want to find existing best practice and share these fantastic initiatives to explore whether they can be scaled up to benefit even more people.

The combined effect of these reforms will ease the pressure on income and enable you to concentrate on building more sustainable, mutually beneficial relationships with your donors.


A new and improved self-regulator is just one part of the change that we need to see in fundraising. The other, more significant, change is in culture and practices.

That is entirely in your hands. I hope you take away from what I have said, some very positive messages for the future.

My strong advice for what it is worth is to listen to the tide of public opinion and do what is right to ensure higher standards in fundraising.

A solid foundation is needed to restore public trust and ensure that you not only do right by your current beneficiaries, but also future ones.

Thank you.