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C4’s Dispatches bases poor practice claims on misunderstanding of the law

C4’s Dispatches bases poor practice claims on misunderstanding of the law

Channel 4’s programme about last week criticised two agencies over the timing of the solicitation statement.

Dispatches claimed that both Pell and Bales’ and NTT’s disclosures that they are paid fundraisers were contrary to Cabinet Office guidance, because they came “after a gift had been offered”.

But it based its criticism on a misunderstanding of official guidance. The programme quoted Professor Stephen Lee ­– a former director of the IoF (when it was called the Institute of Charity of Fundraising Managers), now at City University – as saying that Cabinet Office guidance “clearly” requires the statement is made before a gift is offered.

Professor Lee’s claims in the programme were include in articles about the Dispatches programme run by the Times, Daily Telegraph and the Guardian.

However, the Cabinet Office guidance only says that the statement – required under the Charities Act 1992 as amended by the Charities Act 2006 – must accompany any “representation” for a donation. In relation to telephone fundraising the guidance says that it must be made during the call, but does not specify a point during the call.

This official advice is included in the ’s Code of Fundraising Practice.

Peter Lewis, ceo of the Institute of Fundraising (IoF), said the government stated last year that it intended to produce further guidance on the solicitation statement. Lewis said: “We would welcome clear and simple guidance for charities on solicitation statements and we would be happy to work with the Government on this.”


Possible unethical practices

As has been widely reported, the programme revealed instances of call centre staff being encouraged to lie about their personal circumstances ­– such as pretending they had children – to maintain the flow of a conversation.

It also showed other examples of what could be construed as unethical practice. One manager told an undercover reporter not to remove a person suffering from depression from the call list as “depression was not a get out of jail free card”. On a different occasion a manager said that a woman who said she caring for a terminally ill child and did not want to talk should be marked as a ‘soft’ refusal – meaning she could be called at a later date.

The (FRSB) said it was “critical that any ask for funds is carried out in line with industry standards, always treating donors with respect, honesty and openness”. The FRSB added:

“The allegations of poor fundraising practices identified within the Dispatches programme are of great concern to us and we have already contacted the relevant organisations to discuss those matters and consider whether further investigation or action is required.”

One of the charities using the services of NTT – Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital – is not listed as member of the FRSB’s website.

Although Dispatches quoted the latest Fundraising Standards Board figures revealing that complaints about telephone fundraising had risen by 26 per cent last year, it didn’t add that the volume of telephone fundraising had risen by 25 per cent, meaning that the proportion of complaints to calls remained roughly the same.

FRSB figures show that during 2013-14, there were more than 14 million fundraising telephone calls made, which generated 8,019 complaints – or one complaint for every 1,794 calls. In 2012-13, that figure was one complaint for every 1,804 calls.




Ian MacQuillin is the founder and director of Rogare, the fundraising think tank at Plymouth University's Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy. He has worked in fundraising since 2001 as editor of Professional Fundraising (2001-2006), account director at TurnerPR (2006-2009) and head of communications at the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (2009-2013).

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