The new Fundraising Regulator is set up to address irresponsible fundraising. But what about irresponsible selling?

I have been gently simmering about the press coverage that instigated, and has persisted since, Sir Stuart Etherington’s parliamentary review into fundraising practice in the charity sector[1]. Headlines such as; “The charity sector needs to sort itself out”, “The charity sector is in disarray”, “Trust has plummeted in the charity sector”, have become commonplace and have been proven to directly erode public trust in the charity sector[2].


The parliamentary review itself was initiated, largely, following the heart breaking reports that an elderly lady – Olive Cooke – was allegedly driven to commit suicide after being overwhelmed by donation requests from charities.

A new Fundraising Regulator – the key recommendation of Sir Stuart Etherington’s parliamentary review – launched on 7th July this year.  This regulator will be “the independent regulator of charitable fundraising” and, among other key responsibilities, it will operate a fundraising preference service (FPS) to “enable individuals to manage their contact with charities”.

Members of the public in the UK can already register with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and the Mail Preference Service (MPS) to make their contact preferences clear to organisations contacting them by phone or by post.  The FPS will go above and beyond the TPS and MPS.  Exact details are still to be worked out (the new service will launch in 2017), but its objective is to make it easier for individuals to register their contact preferences with charities.

I am not against the new Regulator or the FPS, indeed I think giving individuals a greater level of control over which organisations can contact them is a good thing (especially as we seem to be losing the battle over data privacy).

But my question is this: Why are charities being singled out?

My inbox is bombarded day and night by organisations requesting my money.  But it’s not charities.  It’s companies sending me marketing emails, encouraging me to buy ‘stuff’.  Stuff I neither need or want.  I tear my hair out as I unsubscribe.

You only have to glance at the alarming increase in household debt in the UK (currently £13,520 – excluding mortgages[3]) to know there is a problem.

One of the key reasons people get into debt?  Unaffordable lifestyles[4].  What drives this perceived need to aspire to a certain lifestyle and to ‘keep up with the Jones’?  The relentless lifestyle advertising and direct sales approach employed by many companies.

And here’s a shocking fact: Suicide is considered by almost 50% of people struggling with debt in the UK[5].  For every one Olive Cooke (note: an inquest clearly found the charity solicitations were not the cause of her death[6]), how many suicides have companies caused?  How many individuals have companies driven on a debt spiral of no return after relentless advertising and marketing?  Where is the parliamentary review for irresponsible marketing by business?  Why am I still hounded every day by PPI calls, and accident claim companies even though they are supposed to be banned from doing so?

Why does it feel like companies can get away with it whilst charities must adhere to a different set of rules?

This post is not about demonising companies and the advertising industry, but simply intended to highlight that companies and charities are both trying to sell something.  And yet we treat them completely differently.

Charities are ‘selling’ you their services when they fundraise.  The only difference in the transaction?  You don’t directly benefit when you buy the charity services.  You’re buying their services so that someone else can benefit from them.  And yet these requests to help our fellow human being have somehow been demonised by the media, whilst we have simultaneously ok’d the requests for us to buy “stuff” that, generally, we don’t need or want.

Is it just me, or have we got things the wrong way round?


Blog written by Rick Benfield, CEO of thirdbridge






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