On 26 March 2024, the Fundraising Regulator reported the findings of its market inquiry into subcontracting in face-to-face fundraising.

The inquiry, consisting of a series of fact-finding workshops held with representatives from charities and fundraising agencies, was launched following a rapid expansion in face-to-face fundraising post-pandemic, heightened media scrutiny, and an increase in complaints and Fundraising Regulator investigations in relation to this method of fundraising.

While the report provides little by way of new information, it does emphasise several recurring issues in subcontracted face-to-face fundraising which the Fundraising Regulator is looking to address.

Outcomes of the investigation

An overarching theme of the market inquiry report is a call for greater collaboration and communication between charities and their fundraising agencies. Workshop participants agreed that good face-to-face fundraising relationships need:

  • A spirit of partnership between charities and agencies that champions positive behaviour;
  • A good workplace culture; and
  • Oversight of the subcontracting chain.

The report encourages all charities and agencies that engage in face-to-face fundraising to review their processes and take action to mitigate against risks of poor practice. This should include looking at training and monitoring and ensuring that it is at a level that they can be confident that fundraising is being carried out safely and in-line with the contract and Code of Fundraising Practice.

A key issue has been the lack of oversight of the supply chain where ‘primary’ agencies that contract directly with charities, sub-contract fundraising services to various sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors. This can be hard for charities to do. The report flags that charities should know who is fundraising on their behalf and have clear terms in the contract which specify if subcontracting is permitted, and if so, what controls and monitoring there will be over it.

The report also notes that transparency and communication are essential, and that agencies should not fear reporting complaints or bad practice to the charity, but instead use it as an opportunity to remedy poor behaviour and improve performance. The Fundraising Regulator notes that this may require a ‘culture shift’ at each level. Charities should emphasise to agencies their ethos and values and ensure that all fundraising aligns with these.

Another recurring theme has been criticism of the way in which fundraisers are paid. The market inquiry stemmed in part from concerns over high-pressure sales tactics, driven partly by performance-related pay and incentives for contractors and their fundraisers. The Fundraising Regulator states that it will not be prescriptive about payment models but urges charities to assess whether their payment models align with their values.

The report concludes that charities are ultimately responsible for fundraising campaigns carried out on their behalf. It is therefore essential that charities review all stages of contracting process to ensure that they are: conducting appropriate due diligence on agencies, have robust contractual provisions in place, and implement effective systems of monitoring and feedback.

Next steps

The Fundraising Regulator has said that it will take the learnings from the inquiry to produce new or updated guidance on face-to-face fundraising. It will collaborate with the Chartered Institute of Fundraising and Charity Commission to do this. It will also feed-in its findings to the update on the Code – a revised draft of which is expected to be published for consultation this Summer.

Bates Wells will also be producing some checklists and resources to help with the face-to-face contracting process – so keep an eye out for those.