Olive Cooke death probe: fundraisers must be reined in

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Fundraising code must be changed in the wake of 92 year old poppy seller's death

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9th June 2015 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Fundraisers must be reined in and the public must be given more control over how charities contact them.

Those are just some of the findings of an investigation into the practices and culture of the UK fundraising sector which was launched following the death of an OAP.

There was an outcry when 92-year-old poppy seller Olive Cooke was found dead in the Avon Gorge near her home in Bristol at the beginning of May.

It was alleged she had been pestered by charity fundraisers in the weeks leading up to her death.

In the aftermath, prime minister David Cameron ordered the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) to launch a probe.

It has just published its interim findings, which call for the tightening of a whole tranche of the Institute of Fundraising’s (IoF) Code of Practice – the guidelines which fundraisers are meant to adhere to.

The public wants greater clarity and more control over how their contact details are being used

The FRSB calls for the code to be revised to ensure charities should provide clear and easy ways for the public to opt out of communication with fundraisers and that an as yet unspecified upper limit should be put on how often people can be contacted.

A part of the code which says fundraisers can use “reasonable persuasion” must be completely removed.

The recommendations (see table below) include that permission must be granted before information can be passed to third parties and that there is better guidance oin how charities approach the elderly.

The FRSB has also urged the IoF to make it clear that all clauses of the code are absolute requirements for adherence with best practice standards, a requirement for self-regulation of fundraising. 

Alistair McLean, chief executive of the FRSB, said: “Over the past few weeks, we have heard from many people who recognise the vital work that charities do and the pressing need for donations to fund that work, but they also feel that charities are asking too often.

“The collective experience of being approached by many charities simultaneously compounds things further.

“The public wants greater clarity and more control over how their contact details are being used and the amount of times they will be asked to give. Although the code already makes it clear that charities must respect donors’ preferences in terms of the way they are contacted, how their details are used and the amount of times they can be approached, we want to see charities making those options much more evident.”

“We are looking to the Institute of Fundraising’s Standards Committee to review how donors’ current concerns can be addressed by strengthening the Code of Fundraising Practice. Essentially, we want the public to be given more control over the way they are approached by charities and for further safeguards to be put in place when it comes to fundraising requests of the elderly and vulnerable.”

Between 15 May and 5 June, the FRSB received a total of 384 complaints.

Of the complaints raised, four in ten (42%) addressed the frequency of charity communications and over a third (35%) were specific to fundraising approaches made to the elderly or vulnerable.

One in six complaints (16%) were about how consent is given for charities’ use of contact data, with concerns that the current opting out measures for charity communications was unclear. 

One in three complaints addressed fundraising by specific charities and will be dealt with separately.

FRSB investigation: the key findings

The FRSB has called for the Institute of Fundraising's Code of Practice to be revised to:

* provide greater clarity about the rules for gaining donor consent, which includes the requirement for charities to provide clear and easy ways for individuals to opt out of further

communication

* limit the frequency of charity approaches to a maximum per year

* expand current guidance for communicating with older supporters and those in vulnerable circumstances

* remove the current code reference stating that fundraisers can use "reasonable persuasion"

* make it clear that permission must be granted by an individual before their personal information can be passed on to third parties (a requirement of the Data Protection Act)

* clarify that charities cannot call people that are registered on the Telephone Preference Service, unless the individual has given clear permission to receive calls

Earlier this week, the fundraising industry came under even more pressure after a Sunday newspaper revealed than an under-cover reporter was encouraged to use pressure tactics while working for fundraising firm Listen Ltd.

Responding to the article, Oxfam announced it would suspend its work with Listen Ltd and Shelter-run Street Academy, which was also criticised in the story.