Pressure to Fix Fundraising Legislation ‘Scandal’
24 February 2015 at 10:57 am
The failure of the Federal and State Governments to fix or abolish antiquated fundraising laws is a “stupid and disrespectful” move holding back the fundraising profession, according to leading academic Professor Myles McGregor-Lowndes.
In his delivery of the Syd Herron Oration at the Fundraising Institute Australia’s National Conference in Brisbane, the Director of The Australian Centre of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at Queensland University of Technology used humour to highlight the farcical nature of the sometimes hundred-year-old laws Australian fundraisers are subject to and called for their abolition.
“People say, ‘why should we comply with legislation that’s copied from 1903 English street legislation?’ It’s not fit for purpose, it’s a scandal!” Professor McGregor-Lowndes said.
“Some of the acts have fallen so far behind that four dollars is the maximum penalty [for infractions under the act].
“Legislation is starting to become a laughing stock and clearly Government is the problem here…[the legislation] is falling into disrepute.
“The law should facilitate what [fundraisers] do as much as regulate it.
“Here’s my solution. We abolish the whole lot, lock, stock and barrell. There’s no good putting in an extra layer of compliance.”
McGregor-Lowndes captured the audience with his quirky use of props to highlight outdated aspects of the law – including a money tin on a stick – as he shared anachronistic passages from legislation.
Above: Myles McGregor-Lowndes (R) with his props.
“Where is the window of opportunity to get some reform here?” he asked.
“Several times the legislation in Queensland and the other estates has been slated for review. In Queensland, it gets announced and it falls away – we have elections, and it falls away.
“And the national regulator (ACNC) – they’re not being much better. We’ve had failed attempts of the States getting together with the Commonwealth, they’re on again, off again…they call it all too hard.
“Fundraising ought to be respected. It is difficult to do fundraising….harder than selling fridges to eskimos!…It is a consummate marketing and relationship exercise and we ought not to spite it or put it down.”
McGregor-Lowndes highlighted discrepancies across State jurisdictions, making registering in all states a difficult undertaking.
“The common problem..is that we’ve got to comply with fundraising regulations and they’re all dramatically different – and this is expensive and difficult to do,” he said.
“The number of days to register [to fundraise] is blown out – in some jurisdictions it can take 100 days to get registered. That just shouldn’t be so. It’s easy enough to get it right and it’s just plain stupid and disrespectful to not facilitate what fundraisers do for the benefit of the public good.
“Legislation in modern drafting terms should be there for people to be able to read it…legislation can be much simpler.”
McGregor-Lowndes used consumer protection laws, where people are shielded from the plainly phrased “deceptive or misleading conduct” as an example of the simplicity and clarity needed in legislation.
“I think those simple words and the meaning behind those words could cover a lot of the kerfuffle of 1903 English street [laws] that our legislation goes on with,” McGregor-Lowndes said.
McGregor-Lowndes said incremental changes “would not cut it” and that “the whole act needs to go,” while acknowledging that major shifts were increasingly difficult for Governments, particularly if powerful stakeholders were not on board.
“There are powerful forces who may not like this – powerful forces who are exempted from Acts,” he said.
“I think we need to go the self-regulation route. We need to lobby Governments to have a new look at fundraising, about where the mischief really is and whether we need the legislation as it is.
“The mischief the acts were based upon has long since passed. We have criminal law for fundraising fraud…and consumer legislation for misleading and deceptive conduct is adequate to deal with most of the rest.
“I think we’ve let boards off far too lightly. They also need to be engaged and responsible for what their fundraisers and their organisations do.
“We don’t want a knee-jerk response,” he added, using the reaction against the Greyhound industry’s live-baiting scandal as an example. “I can envisage the same thing happening here with the right sort of scandal.”
“We need to be ready with options, we need to be ready to go with our self-regulation.”
McGregor-Lowndes is a founding member of the ATO Charities Consultative Committee and the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission Advisory Board.
His address came on the final day of conference, hosted by the FIA, the national peak body representing professional fundraising in Australia.
The annual event is the largest conference for Not for Profit fundraisers in the region, drawing 755 delegates for a series of keynote speakers and professional development sessions.