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Oxfam’s agency placed “undue pressure” on public to donate, says FRSB report

A fundraising campaign carried out by telephone fundraising agency Listen Ltd applied “undue pressure” on the public to donate, according to the results of an investigation by the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB).
The FRSB has judged that the actions breached the Fundraising Code of Practice.
The “two step” campaign for Oxfam involved an initial approach on the street asking passers-by to donate via SMS. This activity was delivered by face-to-face fundraising agency, The Street Academy. Those who donated were then contacted via telephone by one of Listen’s fundraisers, asking campaign donors to confirm whether they wished to Gift Aid their donation (and boost its value at no extra cost to the donor) and also whether they wished to convert it to a regular gift.

The Mail on Sunday’s claims

The results of the investigation have been published today in three separate reports. The investigation follows allegations in The Mail on Sunday on 7 June 2015 under the headline ‘Oxfam Targets Donors Aged 98’. It concluded with an adjudication by the FRSB’s Board in November 2015.
The FRSB found no evidence that the charity or two agencies expressly targeted elderly supporters. It described the newspaper’s headline therefore as ‘misleading’ and ‘untrue’.
Andrew Hind, Chair of the Fundraising Standards Board, said:

“When investigating allegations of poor fundraising practice, we have a responsibility to identify those areas where criticism of charities is unfounded, as well as to identify any wrongdoing and ensure remedial action takes place. So it is important to be clear that we found no evidence to substantiate The Mail on Sunday`s assertion that Oxfam was targeting elderly supporters in this campaign”.


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Code of Fundraising Practice breached

The FRSB judged that the campaign had breached several clauses of the UK’s Code of Fundraising Practice.
• It ruled that Listen had taken an ‘inflexible’ approach, requiring its fundraisers always to ask for funds three times per call and refusing to take people off its contact list unless they used one of three specific phrases.
• It found that one fundraiser working for The Street Academy had failed to deliver the required solicitation statement that indicated that she was paid and employed by a third party. She also did not make it clear how the supporter’s contact details would be used in the future.
• It concluded that Oxfam had not managed the campaign consistently enough with the result that sufficient checks were not carried out to ensure ongoing compliance by the telephone fundraising agency. Not had it ensured that the required clear opt out message had been included in SMS text responses to donations.
The FRSB did accept that Oxfam did have reasonable procedures in place to monitor Listen’s activities and the campaign’s telephone fundraising scripts were compliant with fundraising standards.

Specific breaches

The FRSB’s three reports listed the following breaches of the Code of Fundraising Practice.
Oxfam breached:
• Code section 4.2(b) by failing to make sufficient efforts to check and ensure the ongoing compliance of third parties with the Code and their legal requirements.
• Code section 9.6.2(e) by not including a clear option to opt out from future contact in an SMS text message to campaign donors.
• Code section L14.7(d) by not allowing sufficient time between securing a text donation on the street and the subsequent follow up telephone call, meaning that those who may have chosen to opt out from calls would not have been excluded from Listen’s contact list.
Listen breached:
• Code section 1.3.1(b) by exerting ‘undue pressure’ on supporters with their policy to ‘…always ask three times’ for a donation on a telephone call.
• Code section L14.7(d) Listen by restricting donors’ direct marketing opt out requests to one of three specific phrases.
The Street Academy breached:
• Code section L10.1(b) by failing to deliver the required solicitation statement.
• Code section L14.7(c) by providing a misleading response when failing to confirm that a follow up call would be made asking for a regular gift.
Andrew Hind commented:

“We are concerned that this campaign was non-compliant in several areas and that some fault lay with each of the three organisations involved. All fundraising activity, whether in-house or delivered by third parties, must be closely monitored to ensure it meets both legal and industry standards.
“If it is evident that a supporter does not wish to donate or even that they cannot do so at that time, to keep asking places undue pressure on them. For the sake of the critical work of the sector and the needs of its beneficiaries, all fundraisers must listen carefully to the views of the public. Only by doing so will charities succeed in building trust in fundraising over the long term and engaging the public more fully in their work.”


Further action

Oxfam, Listen and The Street Academy have taken remedial actions to address the Board’s rulings:
• Oxfam is reviewing its use of data protection statements and opt outs in all marketing communications as well as enhanced induction procedures for new fundraising staff;
• Listen has taken disciplinary action against a fundraising trainer and is reviewing the company’s policy on managing conversations with vulnerable people
• The Street Academy is undertaking refresher training for fundraisers.
The regulator called for further actions, including:
• The ability for Listen’s fundraisers to use their discretion and terminate a call without the requirement to ask for a donation three times;
• Oxfam to consider the feasibility of embedding its own staff members into the agencies concerned during all or part of a fundraising campaign to provide an additional level of scrutiny.
The FRSB has also written to the Institute of Fundraising, asking it to review Code clause 8.3.1, which currently states that fundraisers can ask no more than three times for a donation during the course of one call. The FRSB’s view is that a third ask, when a donor has already said no twice, can constitute undue pressure.
This case has also been referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to assess whether there has been any breach of the Data Protection Act.

Oxfam implementing 15 improvements

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB Chief Executive, responded to the FRSB’s adjudicating, saying:

“We are pleased that the FRSB has cleared us of the most serious accusation made by the Mail on Sunday. We have always been clear that their headline claim that we targeted elderly or vulnerable people in our fundraising is, as the FRSB has found, not only misleading but completely untrue.
“Nevertheless, we recognise that the Mail on Sunday highlighted practices that did not meet the high standards we expect of those fundraising on our behalf and that were not picked up by our own monitoring systems. That is why we quickly halted work with Listen Ltd and have already acted voluntarily to strengthen our monitoring of fundraising agencies.
“Our supporters are the lifeblood of our organisation and we apologise once again for failing to ensure this fundraising campaign met the high standards people quite rightly expect of us. We hope the public are reassured by the fact that, on our own initiative, we have already implemented 15 improvements set out by the FRSB – including those to ensure that we meet both the relevant regulations and good practice standards on opt outs. We will of course consider how we can strengthen our monitoring further in light of this report.”


Listen implemented all FRSB recommendations

A Listen spokesman welcomed the FRSB’s report, in particular with regard to the newspaper’s claims that it targeted elderly and vulnerable people. The spokesman said:

“The FRSB investigation was launched following an article by the Mail on Sunday, which incorrectly stated Listen specifically targeted elderly and vulnerable people. In its adjudication report, the regulator concluded the paper’s headline featured a quote that:
“…had not been stated by any Listen staff member during the course of the paper’s investigation and was therefore misleading and untrue.”
“We are pleased the FRSB dismissed the allegation that we had breached the ‘respectful principle’, and that it acknowledges that Listen “has a robust policy in place for managing conversations with vulnerable people.” The FRSB adds it was ‘encouraged’ by the immediate remedial action taken by Listen as soon as the newspaper’s article appeared.
“We moved quickly to address any evidence of practice that fell below our normal high standards and our proactivity has meant that all of the subsequent recommendations made by the FRSB have been in place for several months now”.