The Chief Executives of 17 national charities have publicly committed their organisations to meet the public’s expectations for the high quality of their fundraising. In an open letter to The Sunday Times at the weekend they also supported the introduction of a new, stronger fundraising regulator.
The letter follows sustained criticism by The Daily Mail and other media of several fundraising methods by some named large charities and a small number of their agency partners, and some charities’ alleged handling of vulnerable donors’ personal data.
The letter acknowledges that the generosity of the public “places a big responsibility on all UK charities to behave well in everything we do – especially in how we ask for support”.
The charities acknowledge that “We know that there have been times where fundraising practice has failed to live up to these high standards. We are determined to change that.”
Just last week The Daily Mail criticised the RSPCA for some of its alleged uses of donor data in profiling potential legators, having the day before lambasted more charities for their alleged use of donor data. The Mail’s front page headline summed up the former inaccurately as ‘How RSPCA snoops on wills of donors’.
The chief executives’ letter, co-ordinated by the Institute of Fundraising, emphasises the value of donors’ trust in charities. “The trust put in us by our supporters demands the highest standards of fundraising. We must always strive to meet them”, they wrote. It mentions vulnerable donors and what more charities must do to avoid undue pressure on donors with, for example, dementia.
Indeed, it focuses on the needs and expectations of donors, and what charities must do to earn and retain support. It does not mention beneficiaries of charities or the impact that charities achieve with this support.
[message_box title=”Open letter to The Sunday Times” color=”blue”]
The full text of the letter, published in the Sunday Times on 6 September 2015, reads:
“We live in an incredibly generous country. For generations, British people have dug deep to support a wide range of great causes here at home and overseas.
“This generosity places a big responsibility on all UK charities to behave well in everything we do – especially in how we ask for support
“We know that there have been times where fundraising practice has failed to live up to these high standards. We are determined to change that.
“No one should ever feel pressured into giving. The vulnerable should always receive the strongest protection. And we need to act quickly and decisively when any fundraising practice is found wanting.
“As some of the UK’s leading charities we are absolutely committed to fundraising in a way that respects the rights of individuals and meets the expectations the public has in us. Where we need to change the way we seek the support of the public we will do so.
“We will only ever behave in an open, honest and respectful way towards our donors and the public.
“We welcome Sir Stuart Etherington’s current review of self-regulation of fundraising and will continue to work closely with governments and charity regulators around the UK to assess the need for any further safeguards that might be required.
“We will support the establishment of a new and independent regulator with the power to proactively investigate, audit and impose strong penalties on any charity that breaks the rules on fundraising.
“We will commit to a strengthened Code of Fundraising Practice to guide how we contact people and ask for support.
“We will ensure at all times that we protect and safeguard those who might be vulnerable from undue pressure.
“There is nothing wrong with seeking donations. Everybody leads busy lives and, no matter how deeply they care about a good cause, they often only give when asked.
“If charities simply waited for donations, the many millions raised for good causes each year through the long standing and unwavering generosity of the public would be at risk. From protecting children from cruelty, helping tackle hunger to funding research into disease, we would achieve far less.
“The trust put in us by our supporters demands the highest standards of fundraising. We must always strive to meet them.”
Paul Boissier, Chief Executive, RNLI
Mike Adamson, Chief Executive, British Red Cross
David Canavan, Acting Chief Executive, RSPCA
Dr Jane Collins, Chief Executive, Marie Curie
Lesley-Anne Alexander, Chief Executive, RNIB
Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive, Cancer Research UK
Chris Simpkins, Director General, The Royal British Legion
Mark Atkinson, Chief Executive, Scope
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive, Crisis
Peter Wanless, Chief Executive, NSPCC
Mark Goldring, Chief Executive, Oxfam
Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive, Save the Children
Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive, Macmillan Cancer Support
Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive, Alzheimer’s Society
Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive, Breast Cancer Now
Henny Braund, Chief Executive, Anthony Nolan
Philip Goodwin, Chief Executive VSO International
Richard Taylor, Chair of the Institute of Fundraising, commented on the joint letter, saying:
“I don’t know any fundraisers who wouldn’t be shocked if they thought they’ve created anxiety and distress to members of the public.
“Where that’s happened I want to apologise for that and say sorry, we have fallen below the expectations of the public”.
He put the criticisms and the genuine poor practice exposed in some context, saying:
“The vast majority of fundraising is done to high standards but I was very surprised and shocked at some of the examples of individual charities and agencies we have seen. We want to set the code at a higher level and stop certain practices that we don’t find acceptable”.
Focusing on the common theme of use of donor data and charities’ respect for how donors wish to be contacted, he added:
“Data selling shouldn’t be buried in the small print and I expect that to be dealt with so you ban the size of text where it’s so small it can be lost. The regulator needs to have more teeth and more sanctions.
“Now is our chance to show that we really do care about regaining the trust and confidence of the public.”
He referred, in the context of the letter, to the appointment by the Institute of Fundraising of Suzanne McCarthy as the first independent chair of the IoF Standards Committee, the body responsible for setting the rules in the Code of Fundraising Practice.
She will be joined by three other lay members to “ensure that the voice of the public and donors sits alongside that of fundraisers and the charity sector in setting the standards for fundraising”.
Parliamentary Committee evidence
Three of the CEOs who signed the letter appeared today in front of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s investigation into charity fundraising, which was initiated following the Daily Mail’s reports in May and July. These were Mark Goldring, Oxfam; Justin Forsyth, Save the Children; and David Canavan, RSPCA.
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