Supermarket chain ASDA has become the latest retailer to prohibit face-to-face fundraising in its outlets as the trend in the retail sector to restrict in-store F2F gathers pace.
ASDA’s move brings it into line with the other ‘big four’ supermarkets Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrison’s. Shopping centres have also been cutting back on the number of days they will allow fundraising to take place.
A spokeswoman for ASDA told UK Fundraising that the policy change – which came into effect last month – was made in response to complaints from customers.
“Our customers come to our stores for the primary purpose of shopping, but they also often choose to support the great causes we fundraise for,” she said.
“They have told us that sometimes they can feel pressured when asked to sign up to longer term financial commitments via direct debit, and so in recognition of the current financial climate and our customers feedback, we are no longer allowing direct debit sign ups in our stores.”
Tesco says its policy on Direct Debits has been in place for several years because the “focus has always been on charity cash collections and awareness campaigns”; while Morrison’s’ prohibition of Direct Debit fundraising also stretches back at least two years. Sainsbury’s said it has had “guidelines in place for over a year that prevent charities collecting direct debit details from customers while shopping in our stores”.
Mark Palmer of Space Brokers, an agency that bulk buys private sites on behalf of charities, says he has noticed a gradual change over the past year with more and more shopping centres “tightening up” on F2F. For example, Galleries shopping centre in Bristol banned F2F fundraisers towards the end of 2013, while the Mersey Way shopping centre in Stockport has reduced Direct Debit collections to once a month.
But Kate Barker, Membership and legacy manager, at The Wildlife Trusts says the trend suddenly became noticeable in supermarkets in November 2013, as more supermarkets began to follow the big four’s lead.
No clear reasons for prohibiting F2F
Despite the increasing trend to restrict private site F2F at retail venues, there is little consensus provided by retailers on their reasons – Sainsbury’s declined to provide UK Fundraising with an explanation – leaving F2F operators to second guess retailers’ motives.
[quote right=”center” color=”#999999″]We’re seeing this across all supermarkets and it comes down to one simple thing. There are so many charities trying to gain access now.[/quote]
The Wildlife Trusts’ Kate Barker suspects data protection issues might be at play: indeed one supermarket that no longer allows F2F on its premises said that it “always wants to ensure that customers’ data and interests are protected”.
Mark Palmer at Space Brokers says it is an issue of capacity that is forcing retailers’ into this position. “We’re seeing this across all supermarkets and it comes down to one simple thing,” he says. “There are so many charities trying to gain access now.”
Catriona Lennox of South West Wildlife Fundraising Ltd (SWWFL) – a fundraising consortium of six wildlife trusts in the SW – agrees: “Venue fundraising has held up well and I suspect stores are inundated with requests from charities, which puts pressure on them and leads to complaints from customers.”
But, like street F2F before it, retailers might be restricting Direct Debit fundraising simply because they have some unspecified dislike of the method. Palmer says he suspects that some companies object to third party agencies being paid to fundraise, although they won’t come out and say so directly.
Lennox says that local store managers often say they have been told by their head office not to allow Direct Debit collections any more. “The reason we hear most is that they just don’t ‘like’ Direct Debits.” She says. “It’s frustrating because we just don’t understand what their real concerns are. We need some work done on retailers’ reasons for restricting venue fundraising and we need as much collaboration across the sector to do this as possible.”
One such piece of work is currently being carried out by The Wildlife Trusts – the umbrella organisation for the UK’s 47 wildlife trusts.
In response to concerns from its members – many of which are heavy users of private site F2F – The Wildlife Trusts has embarked on a survey ascertain the scale of the problem: which stores are the hardest to get into, which are the ones that are oversubscribed, and what reasons are being given for refusing entry to face-to-face fundraisers.
Kate Barker at The Wildlife Trusts says: “Until we have spoken to stores we don’t know what the problems are so the most important thing is to get a clear picture.”
[quote align=”right” color=”#999999″]We don’t want consumers thinking down the line thinking that money that is taken out of their bank accounts happened on their visit to Morrison’s.[/quote]
Morrison’s however is clear on why it does not allow in-store F2F. For Morrison’s, it’s an issue of brand association.
“There’s always space for collections and bag packing but don’t want it to be over taken by DD’s and lottery sales,” says Guy Mason – Morrison’s head of corporate affairs.
“We don’t want consumers thinking down the line thinking that money that is taken out of their bank accounts happened on their visit to Morrison’s. We think it’s OK for consumers to make one-off gifts, but we don’t want think it’s appropriate to be making decisions about regular donations while they are shopping at our stores.”
Scale of issue
Despite the growing trend to restrict in-store F2F, Palmer reckons the method is a “long way from becoming unsustainable”. In fact, UK Fundraising understands that one agency that conducts a large amount of in-store fundraising considers the situation to be “business as normal”.
However, Catriona Lennox is slightly more pessimistic. “I am worried about the direction it’s going in,” she says. “We can and are making the most from venues we work in, but we depend on the multiple retailers. I have concerns about the numbers of doors that are closing.”
A self-regulatory solution?
Mark Palmer at Space Brokers suggests that one possible solution would be to bring in-store F2F into the self-regulatory regime for other forms face-to-face fundraising.
“All fundraising should be regulated; we all know this,” he says. “This is something the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA) should control. It’s the same role they have on the street and the door – driving up standards and professionalism.
“Every time a store manager sees a fundraiser do something unprofessional it reinforces why they are doing these things [restricting fundraising]. But if we can tell site owners that fundraisers are part of a regime that guarantees their standards through mystery shopping, that’s how we will gain their trust and protect access to their stores.”
Palmer said was “thinking about raising this with the PFRA”.
A spokesperson for the PFRA said: “The PFRA does not currently engage with private site fundraising and the individual site owners manage this independently through the issue of licences. Since this often involves a fee for the licence, there is an understandable reluctance on the part of charities and agencies to further raise costs through a PFRA levy. We do however periodically review this with our members and will continue to do so.”
Photo: derrickding on Flickr.com
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