What was the IoF up to?

What is one to make of the fact that the Institute of Fundraising, just over a year ago, drew up a confidential internal document scoping how it might merge the membership of the Fundraising Standards Board with its own? It was clearly more than a passing thought – the document, leaked to Third Sector, runs to nine pages and includes detailed analyses of current membership fees of both organisations and calculations of how a combined membership fee might work.

It notes in passing that the FRSB figures were obtained “confidentially and unofficially” and that “the institute currently appears to have problems with data management and administration of the membership is inefficient.”

The institute declines to offer an explanation of the document beyond saying that  it is out of date and was not taken forward for discussion at a senior level. All it says in a statement is that the document was produced in the wake of Lord Hodgson’s review of the Charities Act 2006, in which he called for more clarity and less duplication in the self-regulation of fundraising. “Lots of people and organisations, including the IoF, were thinking about how the system could improve,” says the statement. “We were indeed exploring whether any benefits or cost savings could be gained from different structures in the future.”

It seems clear from the document and the statement that the IoF did not envisage taking over the FRSB’s role of adjudicating complaints, but was instead thinking of a way of trying to make sure that any organisation joining the FRSB also joined the IoF, which would administer the membership while leaving adjudication to a slimmed-down FRSB. There has, after all, been a slow but steady rise in charities and fundraising organisations joining the FRSB, encouraged to do so by everyone from the government downwards. The membership currently stands at nearly 1,600, a figure likely to make the IoF, with its 360 charity and supplier members, feel somewhat green – not least because the more charities spend on joining the FRSB, the less they will presumably be able to afford to join the IoF as well.

With its partnership fund grant from the government fast ebbing away, it was perhaps understandable in 2012 that the IoF was looking at ways of boosting its membership and consolidating its finances. Whether “lots of people and organisations” were doing something similar is yet to be demonstrated.

The general background to the affair, of course, is the less than harmonious relationship between the IoF and the FRSB. Many in the fundraising world have always felt the FRSB was a money-wasting answer to a problem that didn’t exist and have not been able to resist sniping from the sidelines. When the FRSB completed only a small number of adjudications one year, for example, a senior IoF figure tweeted a barbed calculation of how much each one had notionally cost. A poorly disguised resentment persists.

Thankfully there is some prospect of breaking out of this cycle in the coming months. The IoF, FRSB and Public Fundraising Regulatory Association have been making some progress in the last year towards meeting Lord Hodgson’s requirement. But they have been unable to reach a settlement themselves, and the Cabinet Office last year provided some funds for PwC to study the question. The consultancy’s report is said to be imminent. Let’s hope it appears soon and produces a workable way forward.