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29 July 2020

6: Charities and COVID-19 – public fundraising and social distancing

With moves across the UK to begin easing lockdown restrictions, the Fundraising Regulator (‘FR’) and the Chartered Institute of Fundraising (‘IoF’) published, on 25 June 2020, the first two pieces of guidance in a series aimed at supporting charitable organisations to return to fundraising activities in line with social distancing requirements. Changes in lockdown restrictions mean that charities can start to consider public fundraising initiatives again and the new guidance, which has been prepared in consultation with Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive, is designed to help with those decisions and to provide a framework for ‘safe and responsible fundraising’.

The first two pieces of guidance cover:

The FR says that it is ‘essential’ that fundraising organisations consider the guidance, as well as the nature of their activity, the location, their preparation and that they undertake a full risk assessment to inform decisions. It is important that staff and volunteers feel safe too, so it also suggests that organisations consider consulting with staff and volunteers before undertaking any fundraising activity.

The FR makes clear that fundraising should only be reintroduced where it is safe to do so and provided it is in line with government advice, as well as the relevant guidance issued by the devolved administrations. It also notes that there will be some methods of fundraising which it will not yet be considered safe to resume, eg community fundraising events involving large groups of people or mass participation events.

Fundraising key principles guidance

The key principles guidance aims to help charities carry out responsible fundraising, by which it means:

The point about government guidance underpins all the principles in the FR guidance. Just as for other organisations, charities and fundraising organisations need to be aware of the latest guidance, remembering too that the guidance can be different across the UK, so it is important to check and apply the guidance in Scotland, Wales and / or Northern Ireland as relevant. Charities should also build flexibility into their plans, so that they can adapt more easily as necessary, whether to guidance changes, local lockdowns, different rules operating across borders or in response to feedback from the public and those carrying out the fundraising – what the FR’s blog refers to as an ‘agile and responsive return to fundraising’.

The FR and IoF say they will keep their fundraising guidance updated, so charities should also check back for updates – but the relevant government guidance should take precedence.

The FR principles guidance also highlights the need for proper decision-making – charities may feel pressure to expand their fundraising operations to try to fill the financial hole from lockdown, but it is important to take the time to plan, review with fundraising teams and partners, consider the risks and benefits and ultimately for the trustees to be satisfied it is in the best interests of the charity to proceed. As usual, decisions should also be recorded.

As indicated above, these decisions need to be informed by a risk assessment, again in compliance with government guidance and health and safety requirements (the guidance has links to these). That risk assessment (which should be kept under review) will feed into the plan for starting any fundraising activity, which should cover aspects such as:

  • training (virtually) for fundraisers;
  • being clear about implementing social distance requirements and use of PPE and / or face coverings; and
  • a robust system for ensuring self-isolation in the event of symptoms or a positive test result for COVID-19.

The exercise should also extend to discussions with partners – the charity needs to be satisfied that any fundraising carried out by others on its behalf will also be compliant.

All this underpins that safeguarding – of staff, volunteers and the public – is more to the fore than ever at present with the additional risks and challenges posed by COVID-19.

Good communication is also highlighted – encouraging charities to be open in explaining the fundraising they are undertaking and how it complies with the guidance as well as the usual rules for good fundraising.

The guidance also reminds charities that the central principles of good fundraising remain in place – of being polite and respectful, not placing people under undue pressure to give and being alive to the needs of those who may be in vulnerable circumstances. After the experience of the last few months, and with no clear end to the pandemic yet in sight, people’s reactions to an approach may vary significantly, with many suffering from grief, anxiety or financial worries. Fundraisers will need to be prepared to deal with this.

Public fundraising

The public fundraising guidance expands on the principles guidance to provide practical points to consider before conducting methods of fundraising that are carried out in public, including face-to-face fundraising.

Public fundraising involves having to navigate extra hurdles now, such as maintaining social distancing while seeking to engage with members of the public (who, as noted above, may be feeling more anxious than usual and who may be shielding or otherwise more vulnerable or, conversely, may not themselves respect social distancing) and to exchange information and process donations. The guidance offers useful links and practical advice, including to check that licences and permissions obtained previously remain valid.

Fundraising responsibly in a pandemic

Charity fundraising has taken an enormous hit in recent months, with major fundraising events cancelled or postponed and many fundraising channels, such as public fundraising, closed down. While charities have been innovative in opening appeals and expanding online fundraising initiatives, these have not been able to fill the gap left by mass participation events and personal interactions – research by sector bodies has found that charities expect a 24% reduction in total income this year (which would amount to £12.4 billion). The cruel irony is that the same crisis that has cut off charities’ funding channels will also precipitate an increase in demand for their services as the impact on the economy deepens in coming months.

In such circumstances, charities can be expected to want to open up new and flexible ways to fundraise. The guidance published by the FR and IoF is a helpful response to this, encouraging charities to take these steps but with the right planning and decision-making to do so sensitively and, above all, safely.

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