Self-regulatory body Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) found in its annual fundraising complaints report the bump was disproportionate to the 25% increase in the volume of fundraising emails sent.
Charities are increasingly turning to email over traditional direct mail because its cheaper and can be better targeted.
The FRSB, which aims to promote best practice in fundraising and give the public confidence in the way charities raise money, says that the complaints “form a telling picture of those issues that disengage donors and ultimately turn them off from giving altogether”.
Overall, the number of complaints about marketing communications increased 67% year-on-year in 2011, as fundraising activity increased 141% – a sharper spike in complaints than in recent years. One sixth of all complains were prompted by charities’ use of data.
Addressed direct mail attracted almost half (49%) of all complaints. Despite steep increases in outdoor (636%,) radio (371%) and TV (202%) advertising volume, these channels attract the lowest complaint levels.
Alistair McLean, chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board, warns that while donors have huge potential for good in terms of support and fundraising, there is also a potential to spread negative brand perceptions if complaints rise and are not handled properly.
He says: “As a result of email marketing being a relatively young, and easy to use channel, there will be some inevitable errors made. Obviously all communications are well intentioned but lessons need to be learned and particular attention has to be paid to data security.”
“The sector should be praised for its openness about complaints and while the number of complaints [about any channel] are infinitesimal compared to the messages sent, it still might be enough to turn people off. One email could be the straw that breaks to camel’s back and drives away a supporter.”
Head of supporter growth at development charity ActionAid, Amie Ibrahimi-Brown, says: “Across the sector, it’s possible that consumers feel they’ve reached a ceiling on email communications. For instance, around Christmas it’s likely that you can receive two emails per day from a single retailer as everyone raises their rate of communication during the key sales period. Consumers may feel that this has reached a saturation point in their inboxes, and the channel is becoming too intrusive.’