New guidelines set out for commercial fund-raisers
For the first time, the Commissioner of Charities (COC) has come up with a comprehensive set of guidelines for commercial fund-raisers whose staff solicit donations for charities on the streets, to bring about a "more trustworthy and safer giving environment".
The Code for Commercial Fund-raisers, which spells out their responsibilities and acceptable conduct, addresses concerns voiced by the public - namely their pushiness in asking for donations and often, a lack of transparency.
Dr Ang Hak Seng, the Charities Commissioner, said: "It makes clear what is acceptable conduct of fund-raisers, such as being respectful to members of the public whom they approach and not to exert pressure to force people to donate."
Released yesterday, the code was developed with contributions from the charity sector's key stakeholders, including the police and commercial fund-raisers, and goes into immediate effect.
The code incorporates both legislative requirements for all commercial fund-raisers and professional standards, which the COC expects them to adhere to.
It is now mandatory for commercial fund-raisers to:
l •Inform the donor of the name of the charity they are raising funds for, the proportion of proceeds that will go to them and how the fund-raisers' remuneration is determined.
l •Provide adequate control measures and safeguards to ensure proper accountability and to prevent any loss or theft of donations.
l •Hand over all donations collected directly to the charity without deducting any payment or reimbursement of expenditure due to them. The payment due to the commercial fund-raisers must be paid separately.
l •Refund donors who give over $200 if they ask for their money back within a week of the solicitation. However, the amount refunded should consider factors such as whether there were any administrative expenses incurred.
Commercial fund-raisers who contravene the fund-raising laws can be fined up to $10,000, or jailed up to three years, or both.
The code's non-mandatory parts deal largely with the fund-raisers' conduct. For example, they should not "act manipulatively or dishonestly or deliberately make a potential donor feel guilty", or block the public's right of way to get them to donate.
Donors said some fund-raisers can be brash.
Chairman of the Charity Council Gerard Ee said: "They push hard and try to raise as much money as possible because they earn a commission.
"So if there are no guidelines on acceptable behaviour, the danger is they can be overly aggressive and tarnish the name of the charity they are raising funds for."
While parts of the code are not mandatory, Mr Ee said it still has bite. A commercial fund-raiser that does not abide by the code or has attracted complaints may find it harder to get a permit to raise funds in public in the future.
The new code comes in the wake of a record $2.9 billion in donations to charities in the COC's 2016 financial year, up from $2.7 billion a year before. The 2016 figures are the latest available.
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