Subcontracting in fundraising

Visit any high street the length and breadth of the UK and there’s a good chance you’ll encounter a charity fundraiser. Did you know, though, that they’re often subcontractors and not direct employees of the charity? That aside, they’re generally quite affable and often possess seemingly boundless enthusiasm. Yes, they sometimes verge on the irritating, but are normally just doing their best to raise much-needed funds for the charity which they’re representing. 

I say ‘normally’ because we all know that this has not always been the case and that unscrupulous tactics have been employed more often than they should. I was hopeful this was a thing of the past, but I wonder if it is.  

After all, in 2016 when the Fundraising Regulator was established, it was to protect the public and promote accountability. So why does it feel that we are here again, going over the same points?  

Well, largely because the Fundraising Regulator recently conducted its first inquiry into the use of sub-contractors in face-to-face fundraising efforts. From that, as is well-documented, came several recommendations. 

Amongst those is the need to ensure all fundraisers earn a living wage; that training isn’t sacrificed the further removed from the charity the fundraiser is; and that contractual agreements with fundraising agencies are watertight in terms of the use of subcontractors. 

The recommendations make perfect sense – possibly to the extent that they seem obvious – but I can’t help feeling disappointed that the inquiry was needed, and that the use of subcontractors has not always been clearly understood, let alone the risks managed.  

There’s certainly been a push in fundraising activity since the pandemic, and I wonder if increased pressure to raise funds, particularly now in the current economic climate, has further contributed to the need for, and findings of, the inquiry?  

Regardless, this is not an acceptable excuse.  

Charity leaders must know who is fundraising on their behalf. Indeed, they should be aware if subcontracting is taking place and simply, I don’t believe they always do. They should also ensure the people actively engaged in the fundraising effort are trained appropriately and remunerated fairly. 

And whilst all this also sounds like common sense, when was the last time it was explicitly detailed in any Head of Fundraising job advertisement?  

‘Development of fundraising strategy’ 

‘Team leadership’ 

‘Budgetary responsibility’ 

All key terms you’re likely to see in the job spec for a Head of Fundraising, but what about ownership of the entire fundraising effort? If responsibility for managing the relationships and contractual agreements with appointed agencies and, if agreed, further subcontracted teams, doesn’t sit with the Head of Fundraising, well where does it?  

That’s not to point the finger at the Head of Fundraising. Far from it. More explicit oversight of the whole fundraising effort is also about ethics and best practice. For the Head of Fundraising to take ownership of this, the whole organisation – especially those in its leadership – needs to support them in doing so. It is then that best practice and ethical behaviour throughout the entire fundraising effort is achieved.  

So, yes the inquiry has shone a much-needed light on the use of sub-contractors in fundraising but let’s make sure its impact extends further. Let’s make sure that more explicit references to ethics, accountability, ownership and oversight of the relationship with agencies and subcontractors beyond, become commonplace for roles at the highest level of the fundraising chain.  

Written by:

Arlene Clapham

Senior Risk and Assurance Manager