Fundraising backlash could hurt those in need

Swns olive cooke 39-web  wide

Olive Cooke, whose death in 2015 saw the charity sector engulfed by negative stories about fundraising

​Has fundraising criticism led to beneficiaries losing out?

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1st May 2018 by Graham Martin 2 Comments

Permanent harm could be done to vulnerable groups because charities have over-reacted to criticism over their fundraising practises.

That’s the opinion of respected academics, who say there is a danger that the rights of beneficiaries could be compromised because voluntary groups are worried about offending donors.

A new paper by Ian MacQuillin and Adrian Sargeant, published in the Journal of Business Ethics, looks at how fundraising scandal of 2015 – when the sector was engulfed by negative news stories following the death of elderly poppyseller Olive Cooke. It was claimed Mrs Cooke had been bombarded by charity contacts before she was found dead in the Avon Gorge outside Bristol on 6 May 2015.

It states: "The rights of the beneficiary have to date been ignored”, leading to a “very real danger that in the rush to protect the interests of one vulnerable group in society, we could do grave and permanent harm to another".

The authors admit that fundraisers had to clean up their act following criticism, but "rather than create a further series of knee-jerk and bespoke adjustments” to the Fundraising Code, which is held by the English and Welsh Fundraising Regulator, there should be "a systematic review of the underlying ethical frameworks that should be shaping our decision-making".

This is not the first time MacQuillin, founder and director of fundraising thinktank Rogare, has spoken out about how charities reacted to negative publicity following the death of Cooke – and other stories, such as that of Samuel Rae, an 87-year-old who was scammed out of £35,000 after his data was sold on by charities over 200 times.

These cases had far reaching ramifications, which saw the abolition of the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB), the adoption of the opt-out Fundraising Preference Service, the creation of the new Fundraising Regulator for England and Wales.

In Scotland the aftershock was also felt, though trust in charities here remains higher, and a new Fundraising Standards Panel was set up by the sector to provide enhanced self-regulation.

MacQuillin told fundraisers in 2016, at the Institute of Scotland’s Scottish conference: “The point about the Olive Cooke and Samuel Rae cases is that these were outliers and we shouldn’t make public policy based on outliers. It’s supposed to be based on the majority of practices.

“But we’ve had the disbandment of the FRSB by fear of ministers at Westminster. It was more beholden leaders of the fundraising sector to have stepped in and this is not what we need – we have issues to address but we cannot allow ourselves to be dictated to by situations that didn’t happen.

“It’s become shorthand for what happened, but more than that it’s accepted into common wisdom as the cause of what happened.”

1st May 2018 by John Mason

I do think there is a problem with the number of appeals that some charities are sending out to elderly supporters. I have an elderly relative who gives regularly to a number of charities by standing order or direct debit. However, they insist on sending further requests and my relative feels guilty every time one comes in and they do not respond. If they would just send out news updates to such supporters without an appeal as well, that would be a great help.

1st May 2018 by Lok Yue

The fault lies with the charities: not the donors. The sheer number of mailings, in some cases done by computer with very little human input, is bound to have a negative effect. Especially, for instance when you receive heart-tugging emails which accrue from 'do not reply' email address. Stupid, arrogant and thoughtless.