10 questions to create good governance in supplier selection and guide Charities on their journey with a new agency?

With the combination of new agencies to market along with charities reassessing where their budgets are spent due to COVID-19 never before has it been more important to ask the right questions of an agency before enlisting their professional services. In addition to this Charities play a key role in the governance and standards in the sector and by helping guide the right questions we hope that this will play a part in ensuring and maintaining high standards and therefore the continued success and sustainability of face to face fundraising.

1. Do they hold Chartered Institute of Fundraising Compliance Department (CIoF CD) Certification?
Before we look at what a charity gets with a certified agency let us look at how certification has trended over the last 3 years since it was introduced. Even taking into account market fluctuations in terms of the number of agencies in the sector, there are very worrying signs that the volume of agencies applying and qualifying has dropped year after year. In our opinion and for the sake of the sector it is really important that Charities show good governance and recognise the importance of this certification and make it an important criteria when selecting who to work with.

Graph showing declining year on year application and receipt of certification by the CIoF CD

The Certification Programme consists of three, connected elements:

  • A detailed member self-assessment covering all relevant aspects of their fundraising policies and operations, such as recruiting, training and monitoring fundraisers.
  • Members agree to an ‘open-door’ policy on their training, meaning that CIoF CD staff are able to attend all training sessions and provide feedback in a structured, recorded way.
  • Members commit to participate in the IoF’s fundraiser monitoring work, which where applicable, provides mystery shopping and oversight of teams across the UK (the IoF currently provides mystery shopping coverage for street and private site fundraising only).

Agencies that go through certification are transparent, they demonstrate best practice in a variety of policies and processes, they have to demonstrate good financial governance and industry best practice. Many newer and even more established agencies may not have considered the need for the policies in the certification process let alone written and implemented them. The certification therefore provides a really helpful guide and checking mechanism to prove that standards are in check and peace of mind for the client.

2. Every fundraising agency states that they are ethical, what do they do that truly demonstrates this?
Have you ever come across a fundraising agency that says they are not ethical? Just on a spot check now, of five randomly selected agencies three used the word ethics or ethical on their website and one of the other two used a variation of the word. There is no doubt how well meaning the claim is but the important question is what do they do that really makes them ethical? Do they have a well thought out and purposeful CSR program that is put into practice and not just good intentions? Are their employment practices truly ethical? What does they sourcing policy look like?

3. What are the agency’s core values and how do they put them into practice at a grass roots level?
What are the values of the agency? Do they align with those of your organisation? Do their employees know what they are? Do they put them into practice? If so, how? Can the agency demonstrate that the values are put into practice throughout the business? A positive working culture is formed by having strong values but more importantly them being put into action constantly. We would recommend asking the prospective supplier for tangible evidence that the run deep within their core. Look for signs that they are being adhered to in policies and practices within the organisation, in reviews and across their social media channels.

4. How do they pay their fundraisers?
There has been a lot of talk about payment models over the years recent rulebook changes(shown here) state that organisations ought not to use commission payments, particularly commission-only payments, unless the following conditions are met:

  • Other sources of fundraising investment have been explored and exhausted
  • Payments are subject to approval by the fundraising organisation’s trustees, or senior executives when power has been delegated
  • Safeguards are in place to ensure excessive remuneration is not permitted

COVID-19 and the government’s job retention scheme have demonstrated recently that commission only fundraisers suffer far greater financial insecurity than those paid a wage. Countless stories throughout the sector talk about fundraisers not being supported at all during this time. These same fundraisers already bear the brunt of the financial stress in this relationship, to then also not be supported at their greatest time of need is incredibly saddening for a sector that does so much good. If all agencies have to employee their employees by PAYE with the accompanying employment rights this creates a safer financial environment for everyone in the long run and removes the stressors of financial insecurity from the fundraising interaction.

5. What are your external review site scores?
This is a free insight into the future partner agency you are going to work with. You do the same when you buy car insurance or book a holiday why not do the same for a fundraising agency? The best sites to look at at Google, Facebook, Glassdoor & Indeed.

6. How are the fundraisers trained? How long is the training and is it assessed? If so what is the pass rate? Can you easily conduct training observations?
All agencies will hire and train fundraisers in some way or another. As a charity partner you want to have clear insight into how this is done. You should be able to easily schedule a training observation session before you enter into an agreement to work together, agencies may record their training and can share this with you or in a time of social distancing a virtual training session is even easier to join than an in person one. Ask for some statistics on how many people pass the training, how the training is assessed and graded? Ultimately what methods are employed to ensure someone who hasn’t reached an acceptable level of competence in either your campaign or key compliance areas of the job are not put in a live situation with the public until they do?

7. How does someone become a Team Leader/Manager?
We have all seen in the sector the consequence of publicised poor behaviour and the damage it can do. If we look at trends it can quite often be traced directly to regionalised bad practice as a result of team managers being given too little training, too much responsibility and not enough ongoing support. Becoming a Team Leader should not be about completing a couple of weeks work and hitting some targets before being confronted with a ‘sink or swim’ scenario. Team leadership is often the first and most important line for quality control, reassessment of standards, delivering on the job training and much more. The overall intentions and ethos of an agency matter little if they are not perpetuated where they matter most, on the field. REAL managers are the most important people in the company at REAL Fundraising for these very reasons. So the important questions to ask is what are the set criteria to be promoted to Team Leader? Is there standardised training? Is it classroom or field based? Is there an interview or assessment that needs to be passed before someone can get this vital promotion? On average how long does it take someone to be promoted from Fundraiser to Team Leader?

8. How often is each individual/team mystery shopped and what Methods/metrics are used?
Agencies will be mystery shopped by their charity clients and the IOF but it is important that they also have their own compliance monitoring service. What services do they offer and will they share insight with you as a partner?

Do they use an agency or do this in-house? Ask to see some example reports and data from the mystery shoppers/auditors. REAL Fundraising work with Green Light Sites who deliver a full range of auditing packages. Rather than a standard mystery shop (which is included in the audit) the audit provides a lot more data on approaches, stop attempts, compliance with the rulebook, signup rates, branding, COVID safety and much more. It’s a very detail oriented and data driven approach to on field monitoring of fundraisers. Fundraisers should be mystery shopped regularly and data should be shared with clients upon request.

9. How do their complaint rates compare to the industry and what is their complaints policy?
Agencies must have a public facing complaints policy if they do not then they are in breach of the Fundraising Regulators code of practice. Ask for their IOF Street & Private Site quarterly Compliance reports and their unique identifier. Ask them for their complaints ratio and compare it to the Fundraising Regulator’s complaints report. Check the Fundraising Regulator’s list of investigations and see whether your agency is featured and if so, whether the complaint was upheld.

10. What are their attrition rates, how do they combat high attrition? How would they manage high attrition in one region?
When we talk about attrition rates there are lots of numbers to consider, Non payer, 1st claim attrition, year 1 attrition are the key metrics you should ask every agency to provide. Ideally they will plug this into a forecasting/modelling spreadsheet with their key KPI’s and pricing and provide you with some sound year 1 modelling estimations.

Once you have established how an agency will monitor/report attrition back to you a key question to ask any agency is how they closely manage the many individual variables that lead to the overall attrition.

For example will they ensure you are getting good value across the whole donor base or just getting great donors in one region and very poor ROI donors in another? What if one age group of donors is worsening the overall attrition and therefore the ROI?

Having full insight into this is important because it enables constant operational adjustments that will in turn improve the ROI. Working with an agency who is willing to both share this data and also open to being flexible to strategic operational amendments that benefit your Charity (for example not working in an area of high attrition for your campaign) is therefore vitally important.

11. (the bonus question) References. Who do you work with now and can we have their details for a reference?
The F2F sector is incredibly collaborative and open as demonstrated by the collective response during COVID-19 and there is not a charity out there who would not want to be asked for a reference for an agency they have worked with. Ask your agency for at least 2 references from current or former clients.

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