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Do Phone Calls From Charities Push the Boundaries of Ethical Fundraising Too Far?

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The public outcry over the death of Olive Cook, who was allegedly hounded by a number of charitable requests for money, has brought to life anecdotal evidence of strong arm tactics commonly being used on the elderly and vulnerable by certain charities.

The resultant furore has even led to some of our largest charities considering whether to stop telephone fundraising completely.

Telephone fundraising could be an essential way of sustaining financial support for your charity. If so, then how can you make sure you are working within the letter - and spirit - of the regulatory code?  The tips below aim to give you some general initial advice - they also come with a warning.

Charity Commission fundraising guidance is explicit and stipulates that:

“Trustees must ensure their charity complies with the law relating to fundraising and follows best practice…..Trustees need to think about the impact their fundraising methods will have on public opinion and the reputation of their charity.”

This forms part of the duty of care owed by charity Trustees.  The Commission goes further in stating “insistent and repeated phone calls, mails or emails” are contentious and sometimes unethical.  Despite this, other than in extreme cases (where public trust and confidence is damaged) the Commission steers clear of formal regulation, instead leaving the charities themselves to self-regulate by becoming members of the Institute of Fundraising and adhering to its Code of Fundraising Practice (in cases where professional fundraisers are used legislation does apply).

The Code covers such matters as not using random or automated dialling, making silent calls, not calling under 16s or anyone registered with the telephone preference service - unless the charity has been notified by the individual concerned that they may ring.

A critical question is whether this self-regulation is sufficient to increase public confidence in this method of raising monies?

Fundraising by telephone has risen by 30% over the past 4 years. Agencies estimate that the annual income for charities from this method is £35m. This increase has been accompanied by a decline in popularity among donors with the number of complaints doubling between 2010 and 2013. In fact, there is a now a complaint for every 900 calls and a survey conducted by NfpSynergy in 2014 revealed that only doorstep fundraising was found to be more annoying (54% as opposed to 51%).

Complaints are made to the Fundraising Standards Board, another self-regulatory body with approximately 1500 members. Of the 20% of its members who carried out telephone fundraising in 2013, 65% had received complaints covering all aspects of the call: that it was made in the first place; the time of the call; the manner of the “selling” by the advisors (who are often under extreme pressure to hit selling targets) – and the frequency of contact.

The adverse publicity sparked a telephone fundraising summit in July 2015 between the Information Commissioner’s Office (which has a task-force presently investigating telephone fundraising) and the Institute of Fundraising from which some substantial alterations to the Code of Fundraising Practice are expected.  Charities are advised to look out for the outcome of the review.

In the meantime, should they continue to use the telephone as a fundraising platform? While this method is not banned at present - and taking into account the public perception surrounding the process - not complying absolutely with the provisions of the Code, being blasé as to the age or vulnerability of the donor, and using aggressive tactics could be disastrous for the charity’s reputation. It could also put the Trustees at risk of allegations of a breach of their duty of care.

If you have any concerns over your charity's current fundraising efforts, or would like to discuss any other legal issue relating to your charity, please contact Michele Todd on 0114 2906207 or email micheletodd@hlwkeeblehawson.co.uk
 

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