Direct mail most complained about charity marketing tactic

Complaints about charities using direct marketing such as direct mail, telephone and doorstep fundraising spiraled last year, according to the annual complaints report compiled by the Fundraising Standards Board. 


Complaints against charities using addressed direct mail increased 36 per cent year on year to 16,966, accounting for more than a third (35 per cent) of the total and more than twice as many complaints as any other area. The average complaint rate, calculated by dividing the number of complaints by the fundraising volume, also increased, up to 0.0005 last year from 0.0002 in 2012, as growth in complaints outstripped the rising use of addressed direct mail.

Telephone fundraising came in at number two with 8,019 complaints, ahead of doorstep face-to-face and clothing collections.

Telephone fundraising remains the most complained about method on a relative basis, with charities on average contacting donors 923 times before receiving a complaint, a much lower figure than for any other area. The FRSB broke out reasons for the complaints, with the tone or content of the call, dislike of the method and frequency of calls the most common concerns.

Overall, direct marketing accounted for 59 per cent of complaints last year. Public collections were the next most complained about method, accounting for 29 per cent.

With direct mail, telephone and doorstep fundraising continuing to top the complaint chats, the FRSB says it will look into the underlying causes for concerns to see whether industry standards need reviewing. It has already submitted recommendations to charities on how best to contact donors using these methods, while the Institute of Fundraising is planning a review into its code for doorstep fundraising.

Face-to-face street collection saw complaint numbers drop by 10 per cent, causing a decline in average complaint rate. Newer fundraising methods such as SMS and email saw a big rise in complaints, although the FRSB said this was from a low base.

Advertising including TV, radio, print and outdoor accounted for just 2 per cent of complaints, despite dominating fundraising volumes.

Overall, complaints about charity marketing soared 44 per cent year on year in 2013 to 48,342, an increase on the 9 per cent growth seen in 2012. However, this was accompanied by a 13 per cent increase in the number of charities reporting to the FRSB and 51 per cent increase in fundraising activities, with charities counting 20 billion contacts with donors last year.

Membership body the Institute of Fundraising, which supports the charity sector, highlights that the proportion of complaints actually dropped slightly last year, to 0.00024 from 0.00026 in 2012, suggesting that nearly all charity fundraisers are getting it right.

Peter Lewis, chief executive of the IoF, says: “We should also recognise, as Government and the FRSB does, that the overall picture is a positive one, with very few complaints compared to the volume of asks, and charities dealing with those complaints very well.”

On average the largest UK charities (those with incomes of more than £1m) reported 515 complaints last years, while the smallest had less than one. More than half (55 per cent) of the complaints were incurred by less than 2 per cent of reporting charities.

The FRSB is a self-regulatory body that oversees 1,630 charities in the UK with fundraising programmes that earn £4.6bn in funds each year.

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