‘Charities must empower donors or risk alienating them with aggressive fundraising tactics’

Charities must give donors more rights or risk alienating them with aggressive and intrusive fundraising tactics, according to industry experts following an investigation into charity fundraising prompted by the death earlier this year of Olive Cooke.

The charity fundraising regulator, the Fundraising Standards Board, looked into fundraising practices after allegations that Cooke was overwhelmed by fundraising requests.

Her case led to 384 complaints to the board, with 42% addressing the frequency of charity communications and over a third (35%) specific to approaches made to the elderly or vulnerable people. One in six complaints were about how consent is give for charities’ use of contact data.

The FRSB is now calling for the Code of Fundraising Practice, which is run by the Institute of Fundraising (IoF), to be updated to provide greater clarity about the rules for donor consent, limit the frequency of charity approaches and improve guidance on communicating with older supporters. The IoF is working on the recommendations.

Alistair McLean, CEO of the FRSB, says: “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 work, but they also feel that charities are asking too often.

“Essentially, the public must be given more control over the way they are approached by charities.”

Alistair McLean, FRSB CEO

Empowering donors

Joe Sexton, founder of charity research consultancy nfpSynergy, says the recession meant charities had to raise more money from donors and provide more services, causing them to turn to more “aggressive, assertive, intrusive” tactics. However, he says it is clear the industry has gone too far in its attempts to raise money and stopped thinking about donors as much.

“The industry has to get that balance right. Fundraisers must get on with fundraising but the public and donors must be safe in the knowledge that if they want to be left alone they will be, that they don’t feel hounded.

“There has been a gradual realisation in parts of charity sector that the balance has gone too far in favour of fundraisers and not enough in favour of the public,” he says.

He suggests charities start to empower donors and communicate with them what they can do it they feel hounded or if they say they don’t want to be contacted.

“We must redress the balance and make donors and the public more assertive on how they should feel. Giving to charity should be a pleasure, people should get pride and satisfaction out of it, not feel guilty or anxious or irritated,” he adds.

The IoF says it has formed task groups to take a lead on areas including frequency of approaches, how people can more easily manage their preferences and how charities share data.

Peter Lewis, the IoF’s CEO, says: “I believe the combination of raising the standards of fundraising, alongside our commitment to introduce a new compliance regime, will further strengthen charities’ relationships with their supporters and ensure the very highest levels of accountability and transparency.

‘Charities must communicate better’

While charities do an “incredible amount of good work” supported by donors, says Lewis, it is critical they retain their trust and confidence.

Vicky Browning, director at membership body Charity Comms, says while charities have a “fantastic relationship” with the public it can’t take that for granted and must respond to the questions being asked of them.

“We have to work to improve understanding of modern charities and how they operate both in terms of the overall contribution to the fabric of life in the UK and nore specific areas around how charities work,” she says.

Sexton agrees, saying charities must get better at dealing with criticism and explain why its fundraising methods work.

“Charities are absolutely rubbish at dealing with [criticism], no one has put up a decent case as to why knocking on doors or street fundraising are good ways to raise money or explained that sending out a free gift leads to a 25% lift in money raised. We need a much better explanation culture otherwise the worry is that public don’t think we’re mercenary but that we’re good at wasting money,” he adds.