Mind the Gap

Thank you for your comments in the Factary blog over the last few weeks. Even the ones we disagree with.

Really.

Because your comments – Adrian, Charlotte, Elizabeth, Finbar, Gareth, Jay, Jeremy, Jon, Julie, Luke, Nicola, Oliver, Peter, Philip, Sarah, Tim, – show the size of the gap between two camps.

In one camp are the people who work with philanthropists in charities, universities, theatres and museums. These people know that in order to manage a relationship with a customer – in this case, a philanthropist – we need to do what the banks, the supermarkets, the accountants, lawyers, architects and many others do. We need to be able to access public domain information in order to understand our customer, and we know that we have a legitimate interest in doing so. Sometimes we are required to do this research – for example by our supervisors at the Charity Commission.

Sometimes, we need to do this research before we have met the person. Which is why we have a range of controls, including legal controls and codes of conduct that set limits on this type of research.

In the other camp are the people who believe that precisely this type of research is an intrusion into an individual’s privacy. That searching for a named individual in Companies House fundamentally affects the rights of that person.

This is out of our hands now. The Fundraising Regulator and the Information Commissioner are putting together guidance that – we hope – will resolve this difference.

So we are closing, for now, this thread of conversation. We are not going to take any more comments in this area, for now. The debate needs much more hallowed halls than Factary can offer – it should be taking place in Parliament, or at the NCVO, not in our blog.

We have a job to do – to provide ethically sourced public domain information for our many non-profit clients, and we’d better get back to that.


The Future of Philanthropy, in 1 Question

You are at a board meeting of your charity. Board member Jane mentions her friend Peter, and says he might be interested in making a donation. Peter, she says, is the owner of a large software company.

Peter, to be clear, is NOT A CURRENT DONOR. He has not opted in or opted out or opted for anything at your charity.

Back at the office you put Peter’s name into Google. It’s in your legitimate interests to do so, and Peter would expect you to do this.

Turns out that Peter’s business is based in Newcastle.

You are in London, so there is time and travel cost to consider if you are to visit him. You use Companies House to find out about Peter’s shareholding and the company’s profits. These figures help you estimate Peter’s gift capacity. Again, it’s legitimate for a charity to estimate the size of a potential donation before it decides to spend money on a visit to Newcastle.

At an invitation-only event on the 21st of February, the Information Commissioner’s staff will tell charities and the Fundraising Regulator whether or not they can do this search.

The future of philanthropy in the UK hangs on the ICO’s reply to this one question.

Can a prospect researcher do the search outlined above?

If the answer to the question is “No”, then high-value philanthropy in the UK will change dramatically.

It will no longer be possible to use public-domain information to identify or understand potential donors. Charities, universities, museums, hospitals and theatres will have to stop, immediately, all proactive forms of reaching out to new high-value supporters.

How will high-value philanthropists react? They will give less. When charities stop asking, people of wealth will stop giving, or give less and less often.This is not just an assertion – it is demonstrated by research. In “Richer Lives: why rich people give”, Theresa Lloyd and Beth Breeze report that 69% of rich donors give ‘If I am asked by someone I know and respect.’ Charities, from cancer research to the lifeboats, will have to adapt to a dramatic cut in their income.

Some philanthropists will respond by setting up their own foundations. We know from Factary’s New Trust Update that they are already doing this in some numbers. They will manage their own projects via these foundations, meaning less money for mainstream charities.

If the answer to the question is “No”, then the ICO is taking on not just the charity sector, but pretty much every business in the UK. Because every day hundreds of thousands of secretaries, assistants and marketing people do this exact search to check up on potential customers. Can that really be the ICO’s intent?

If the answer is “Yes”, then the ICO is affirming prospect research. We CAN continue to research, understand, and evaluate potential donors and, with permission, actual donors.

We will know the future of philanthropy in the UK on the 21st of February.


Chris Carnie is the author of “How Philanthropy is Changing in Europe”, published by Policy Press. He writes in a personal capacity.


Have I Mentioned…?

Have I mentioned my new book? (It’s the vain author’s constant refrain.)

Yes, I know I have. But that was pre-publication. Now I have an actual copy in my hands, so that means that the orders have started shipping from Policy Press.

This is a book for practical people. It’s about how high-value philanthropy is evolving across Europe, so practical people in fundraising, in prospect research, in social investment, in policy making and in education will all find – I hope – useful information here.

If you are a major donor fundraiser interested in why your donors keep asking about impact, you’ll find an answer here.

If you are a private banker or wealth adviser who wants to understand why your clients keep on asking about foundations in France, you’ll find out why, here.

If you are a policy maker wondering whether to recommend further tax relief for donations, then you’ll find the arguments here.

If you are a prospect researcher, wondering where to look for potential supporters in Switzerland, you’ll find some answers here.

And if you are the director of an NGO, wondering what your strategic priorities should be, you’ll find some suggestions here.

The book includes case studies, detailed research, some how-to, and a bibliography of more than 300 sources and references in (count ’em, ladies and gentlemen) seven languages. Its focus is Europe, meaning that this is not about the UK + the Continent + Ireland – it’s about the Continent + Ireland, plus the UK.

I hope you find it useful.

 

Order “How Philanthropy is Changing in Europe” directly from Policy Press, here.


Divided Rules

Prospect researchers are at the nexus of a storm between five government agencies. Thanks to the monetary penalties imposed by the Information Commissioner in December 2016 on two leading charities we can now see the extent of the battlefield.

In one corner is the Information Commissioner’s Office, ICO. In its press release announcing fines for the RSPCA and the British Heart Foundation, ICO condemned the use of “information from publically[sic]-available sources to investigate income, property values, lifestyle and even friendship circles.”

This appears to put the ICO in direct opposition to the Charity Commission. In a series of papers entitled ‘The Compliance Toolkit’ the Commission reminds charities that they have a duty to check on donors and potential donors. Tool 6 in the suite is called ‘Know Your Donor’, and here the Charity Commission asks;

“Have any public concerns been raised about the donors or their activities? If so, what was the nature of the concerns and how long ago were they raised? Did the police or a regulator investigate the concerns? What was the outcome?”

How would you find out whether “public concerns” have been raised, if you did not use “publically-available sources”?

You simply have to use newspapers, government sources, and a search engine if you are to find out whether public concerns have been raised. There is no other way. And of course the Charity Commission says so, recommending that “full use should be made of internet websites” to check donors.

Your duty

The Commission goes further, and reminds trustees that “…if the trustees have reasonable cause to suspect that a donation is related to terrorist financing, they are under specific legal duties under the Counter-Terrorism Act to report the matter to the police. In the case of money laundering, reports can be made to the police, a customs officer (HMRC), or an officer of the National Crime Agency.” The Commission suggests a threshold for reporting – donations of £25,000 or more.

But we are not done yet. Because if you have the slightest suspicion that the donor may be a bit iffy, the Charity Commission requires you to “…check the donor against the consolidated lists of financial sanctions targets and proscribed organisations.”

Gosh.

That means this list.

The list contains 8,885 names of individuals who are under sanctions. It includes their date and place of birth, their passport or ID number, and a biographic note such as “Manager of the branch of Syrian Scientific Studies and research Centre.”

That is personal information held in the public domain, that the Charity Commission requires us to review.

The Libya Connection

Why are four government agencies – the Police, HMRC, the National Crime Agency and the Charity Commission – interested in these checks?

In part, the story is linked to the London School of Economics, and the controversy over a gift from Libya. The result of the controversy was the Woolf Inquiry, which published its report in October 2011.

After a detailed study of the history of this gift, Lord Woolf made a series of recommendations on accepting funds from “less well known” high-value philanthropists including an inquiry into the sources of their funds (p. 69) and a thorough due diligence assessment (p. 22).

These searches are only possible with public domain information.

Catch-22

Under questioning at last year’s CASE conference, ICO spokesperson Richard Marbrow did allow that we could use public domain information for due diligence purposes. But he went on to say that this same information could not be used for assessing gift capacity because that would be an “incompatible purpose” for the use of data.

But that leaves us prospect researchers in Catch-22.

I cannot carry out full due diligence on all my prospects. To do so would be a scandalous waste of charity resources. The Charity Commission suggests that the threshold should be £25,000. So if I am to decide that Mrs A or Mr B must be checked via due diligence…I have to assess their gift capacity.

To do that, I need the help of a fifth government agency, Companies House.

Open for Business

Mr Marbrow cited Companies House various times during 2016, telling fundraisers and prospect researchers that because the information in Companies House was collected for one purpose – regulation – it could not be used for another – prospect research.

What does Companies House say? Here is their July 2014 press release*

“Companies House is to make all of its digital data available free of charge. This will make the UK the first country to establish a truly open register of business information.
As a result, it will be easier for businesses and members of the public to research and scrutinise the activities and ownership of companies and connected individuals. … This is a considerable step forward in improving corporate transparency…

It will also open up opportunities for entrepreneurs to come up with innovative ways of using the information.”

So, Companies House wants us to “research and scrutinise the activities and ownership of companies and connected individuals,” and to find “innovative ways of using the information.”

The Battle for Philanthropy

Prospect researchers are caught in the centre of a battlefield between government agencies, between “innovative ways” of using information, terrorism legislation, due diligence and privacy.

We must defend our corner of this bloody battlefield.

We need our friends in fundraising and philanthropy, in Parliament and in civil society, to support the sensible, ethical, managed use of public domain information in the search for philanthropists.

 

 

*I am grateful to a colleague at a leading University for pointing this out.

Chris Carnie is the author of “How Philanthropy is Changing in Europe”, published by Policy Press. He writes in a personal capacity.