The British Red Cross, Macmillan Cancer Support, NSPCC and Oxfam breached industry standards together with telephone fundraising agency GoGen Ltd, according to an investigation report by the Fundraising Standards Board.
The FRSB began its investigation in July 2015 after the Daily Mail published an undercover investigative report into telephone fundraising practices at GoGen. The newspaper claimed that the fundraisers working on behalf of these charities were “hounding” vulnerable and elderly people for donations, including when supporters had opted out of receiving marketing calls.
Criticising GoGen’s training procedures, the newspaper’s reports claimed that that all four charities had been making calls to households registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS).
The FRSB’s investigation report, published today, is based on evidence supplied relating to GoGen, the British Red Cross, Macmillan, NSPCC and Oxfam. The industry’s self-regulatory body assessed fundraising practices against the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice as it stood in July 2015.
Breaches of the Code
The FRSB acknowledges that all four charities had monitoring procedures in place. However, it judged that they were not sufficient or adequately carried out to monitor GoGen’s delivery of their telephone fundraising campaigns appropriately.
- All four charities breached section 4.2(b) of the Code by not having sufficient monitoring procedures in place.
- GoGen was found to have breached the Code clause that prohibited exploitation of vulnerable people when one fundraiser advised another to secure a donation from a potentially vulnerable individual.
- It also breached of the Code when advocating the use of pressurising techniques during training sessions for fundraisers
- It failed to make clear that the purpose of telephone calls was to seek financial support, breaching section 8.3.1(k).
- Macmillan and the British Red Cross were found to have breached industry guidelines by failing to make it clear to supporters how their contact data may be used.
Allegations not upheld
The FRSB did not uphold further allegations against the four charities, including a failure to use solicitation statements or to impose TPS restrictions.
The FRSB ruled that the Code at the time enabled charities to contact TPS-registered donors if they judged that their relationship with those donors was sufficient, but advised caution in using this approach. As such, all four charities were compliant with section 8.2.3(b).
Closure of GoGen
GoGen ceased trading weeks after the Daily Mail’s report was published, with the loss of 485 jobs. The majority of its charity clients withdrew their business following the newspaper’s allegations.
Reactions of charities and improvements to the Code
The four charities have all reviewed their telephone fundraising programmes and procedures in respect of third-party agencies, and made improvements to their processes. This includes more spot checks, mystery shopping and listening in to more calls, and closer monitoring of agencies to ensure compliance with the Code.
The Institute of Fundraising reviewed and amended the Code too. This included amending the section of the Code to make it clear that explicit consent must be obtained from TPS-registered individuals before a telephone fundraising approach can be made.
The FRSB has issued recommendations to improve future standards of telephone fundraising practices, including:
- That the Code of Fundraising Practice is amended to require a solicitation statement to be delivered before a potential supporter provides their bank details, enabling supporters to make a fully informed decision before they donate.
- The development of a standardised best practice benchmark for charities’ monitoring of telephone fundraising agencies.
- That a new Code requirement is introduced for written agreements between charities and third-party fundraising agencies to cover how the charity intends to monitor the conduct of that agency.
Andrew Hind, Chair of the Fundraising Standards Board, said of the report’s findings:
“Working with telephone fundraising agencies can be an important way for charities to reach out to new and existing supporters, but it is essential that any fundraising activity meets standards laid out in the Code of Fundraising Practice.
“While this investigation outlines a number of failings at the agency, ultimate responsibility always rests with charities for the conduct of any third-party agencies representing them. We welcome the significant actions that each charity has since undertaken to ensure closer working with any agencies they work with in the future, including better monitoring and supervision procedures.”
Institute of Fundraising responds
The Institute, which created and oversees the development of the Code of Practice, issued a statement on the FRSB’s findings:
“As the FRSB report highlights, since July last year the Code of Fundraising Practice has been significantly strengthened. This includes making it clear that charities must not contact TPS registered individuals without their explicit consent, as well as making it far easier to stop unwanted fundraising communications.
“We welcome that the charities involved in this report have already made significant changes to their processes to address the issues uncovered. This reflects a large number of improvements in regulation and practice across the wider charity fundraising sector in the last year including a stronger Code of Fundraising Practice, new laws to protect vulnerable individuals, forthcoming guidelines and advice for charity trustees, and a new, more powerful fundraising regulator due to start operating this summer.”
Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB’s Chief Executive, said:
“We accept the FRSB’s findings and I would like to apologise once again for the fact we did not spot that GoGen were falling well below the high standards both we and the public expect of our fundraisers. We are, however, pleased that the FRSB has dismissed any suggestion that we were misleading our supporters or breaching TPS rules by calling people who had registered with the scheme to avoid being contacted in this way.
“Oxfam is extremely grateful for the continuing generosity of the British public. We believe in treating all our supporters and those who we ask for support with respect – and that applies especially to people in vulnerable circumstances.
“We halted our work with GoGen last summer, as soon as we were made aware of the allegations. Since then – as the FRSB recognises – we have significantly strengthened the monitoring of all agencies which fundraise on our behalf.”
Lynda Thomas, CEO of Macmillan Cancer Support, said:
“We are extremely sorry that the work undertaken by GoGen on our behalf did not meet the high standards we expect which is why we immediately suspended our work with them. We want to reassure our donors and the public that we have taken this very seriously and have made a number of crucial changes to help ensure this never happens again.
“We have appointed a dedicated Compliance Manager who is undertaking a comprehensive programme of work to implement rigorous new training, quality assurance and monitoring procedures across all our fundraising activities. We have strengthened contracts with the agencies we use, increased the number of calls we listen to and introduced stronger safeguards to protect vulnerable people.
“Alongside this we immediately reviewed and amended our data protection statement to make it easier and clearer for supporters to choose how they support us. Donor choice is vital to their support and we want people to be in control of how we communicate with them whilst ensuring they are still aware of how to access our vital support services. So we have undertaken a robust piece of research to develop and test a new statement that makes sure donors truly understand and explicitly consent to supporting us, and we will be changing to this new statement soon.
“Our donors are at the heart of everything we do. We only exist because of them and couldn’t offer our vital services to people living with cancer without their generosity. We are enormously grateful to every single one of them. Donors need to know that they can trust Macmillan and that’s why we have developed a new Macmillan Supporter Promise which outlines our commitment to always being open, honest, transparent and treating our supporters with the respect they so rightly deserve.”
The Daily Mail
The Daily Mail today reported on the FRSB’s findings with the headline Now charities watchdog backs Mail expose of cold call sharks. It again included a reference to “boiler room” tactics, and the reference to volunteer fundraiser Olive Cooke. It repeats the claims that she “had received repeated requests from charities for donations” including telephone calls from fundraisers, but omits to give the wider context of the comments by the Coroner and her family.
The FRSB’s report makes no mention of Mrs Cooke. Nor does it mention the phrase ‘boiler room’ and only mentions ‘cold call sharks’ by referencing the newspaper’s headline.
You can download the full FRSB report in PDF.
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