FRSB publishes interim report into fundraising practices following Olive Cooke allegations

The Fundraising Standards Board has published an interim investigation report into fundraising practices following the death of volunteer poppy seller Olive Cooke.
Two national newspapers alleged, before the coroner had even reported, that her death was related to the volume of charity fundraising mailings and telephone calls she had received. Her family rejected any link, but The Daily Mail persisted in its call for ‘Olive’s Law’ to ‘protect’ donors.
The Prime Minster David Cameron asked the self-regulatory body to investigate, and was supported in so doing by Rob Wilson, Minister for Civil Society, calling for ‘thorough and swift action’. The FRSB launched its investigation on 18 May 2015.
The interim report calls for the public to be given more control over the way that charities communicate with them, making it easier for people to opt out of unwanted contact.

Public complaints

The investigation focused on two areas:
1. The circumstances leading to Mrs Cooke reportedly feeling overwhelmed by contact from charities.
2. Identification of key lessons from public complaints generated in the wake of Mrs Cooke’s death.
Between 15 May and 5 June 2015, the FRSB received a total of 384 complaints.
Of the complaints raised:
* 42% addressed the frequency of charity communications
* 35% were specific to fundraising approaches made to the elderly or vulnerable people.
* 16% were about how consent is given for charities’ use of contact data, with concerns that the current opting out measures for charity communications was unclear.
* 33% addressed fundraising by specific charities and will be channeled through the FRSB’s three-stage complaints process.

Strengthening Code of Fundraising Practice

The report identifies areas of the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice that could be strengthened to address these concerns from the public. Specifically it calls for the Code to be revised to:
* Provide greater clarity about the rules for gaining donor consent, which includes the requirement for charities to provide clear and easy ways for individuals to opt out of further communication;
* Limit the frequency of charity approaches per year;
* Expand current guidance for communicating with older supporters and those in vulnerable circumstances;
* Remove the current Code reference stating that fundraisers can use ‘reasonable persuasion’;
* Make it clear that permission must be granted by an individual before their personal information can be passed on to third parties (a requirement of the Data Protection Act);
* Clarify that charities cannot call people that are registered on the Telephone Preference Service (TPS), unless the individual has given clear permission to receive calls.


‘Must’ and ‘ought’

“All clauses of the Code are absolute requirements for adherence with best practice standards”

The FRSB has also asked the Institute of Fundraising to make it clear that all clauses of the Code are absolute requirements for adherence with best practice standards.
The Code, the product of many years of fundraising experience provided voluntarily by members of the Institute, together with expert legal and professional advice, includes words such as ‘must’ and ‘ought’ with very specific meanings, explained in the Code. These differentiate between whether something is a legal requirement or one of best practice. The FRSB’s report suggests that there is some concern that the word ‘ought’ may not indicate that the relevant clause is a requirement.
Alistair McLean, Chief Executive of the Fundraising Standards Board, said that the organisation had heard from many people who, while recognising the value of the work that charities achieved and the need for donations to support that, still felt that charities are asking too often.
He said:

“The public wants greater clarity and more control over how their contact details are being used and the amount of times they will be asked to give. Although the Code already makes it clear that charities must respect donors’ preferences in terms of the way they are contacted, how their details are used and the amount of times they can be approached, we want to see charities making those options much more evident.
“We are looking to the Institute of Fundraising’s Standards Committee to review how donors’ current concerns can be addressed by strengthening the Code of Fundraising Practice. Essentially, we want the public to be given more control over the way they are approached by charities and for further safeguards to be put in place when it comes to fundraising requests of the elderly and vulnerable.”


What next?

The FRSB will present the interim report to the Institute of Fundraising’s Standards Committee at its next meeting on 10 June 2015. The Standards Committee is responsible for setting the standards for charity fundraising in the UK.
The Institute of Fundraising has committed to review its Code of Fundraising Practice and relevant guidance in light of the investigation findings.
You can view and download the FRSB’s eight-page interim report ‘Investigation into charity fundraising practices‘ (in PDF).