How have charities weathered the fundraising crisis?

Charities have come under fire over the summer for the way they fundraise after concerns about some of the aggressive tactics used and the revelations have had an impact on perceptions of the charity sector, according to new research.

The revelations began back in May when it was suggested that the death of Olive Cooke was in part due to aggressive tactics from charities. Her family said she had received upwards of 250 letters a month as well as phone calls from charities begging for donations.

While her family later ruled this out as a cause of her death, it led to a series of investigations about the way charities raise funds, in particular over the way they market to and communicate with elderly and vulnerable people,

That culminated in a review, released earlier this week (22 September), commissioned by the Government and headed by CEO of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations Sir Stuart Etherington. It suggested the current system of regulating charities is “not fit for purpose” and recommended setting up a new regulator answerable to Parliament and with the power to inflict sanctions.

Donors would be able to give their donation preferences to this regulator and say which charities they are happy to receive communications from. Any charity found to be in breach would be named and shamed and forced to halt fundraising – such as cold calling and mailouts.

The Direct Marketing Association has welcomed the recommendations, saying that all charities should be in compliance with its guidelines.

DMA managing director Rachel Aldighieri says: “Every company that operates today comes into contact with people who find it difficult to make informed decisions. It’s no longer just ‘nice to have’ the ability to deal with vulnerable consumers, but a necessity. It’s also good business sense.”

YouGov’s Briony Gunstone agrees that the review could actually end up having a positive outcome for charities if it leads to positive changes to the way charities fundraise.

Figures from YouGov’s CharityIndex finds that the negative stories have had an impact on perceptions of charities. Among those most engaged with the sector – likely to donate time, effort or money – the charity sector overall has seen a decline in its Index score (a measure of a range of metrics including quality and impression) from around 81.2 in the week before Cooke’s death to 79.3 yesterday (24 September).

Buzz – a balance of the positive and negative things said – fell from 76.8 to 63.6 over the same period. Recommendation and consideration are both down as well.

Gunstone says part of the problem has been that charities have increasingly relied on supporters to raise enough money. This in turn has meant that the public expect more from charities, for example in the way they spend and raise money.

However she does not believe that perceptions of charities have been so dented that they cannot recover, so long as the correct procedures are put in place now to restore trust.

“Among the most engaged audiences negative stores have clearly made some people less likely to consider supporting them. While the recent bad publicity has had an impact on charities’ perceptions it is by no means irreversible and it may well end up being a good thing if it leads to changes in the way potential donors are approached,” she explains.