The Sun has published details of its undercover investigation into NEET Feet, the face-to-face fundraising company. Its headline reads “‘HE LITERALLY MUGS THEM’ Charity firm hires drugged-up ex-criminals to ‘squash’ old and vulnerable for donations”.
A journalist spent one month working undercover for the agency, which offers door-to-door, private site and events fundraising services.
The journalist reported examples of disrespect towards donors and potential donors, including:
- NEET Feet fundraisers referring to people on low income council estates as “Jeremies”, referring to the Jeremy Kyle Show on TV
- referring to potential donors as “trash”
- describing the process of signing people up to regular gifts as “squashing”
In addition, he says that he was told during this training that “Morals in this job tend to piss off out the window.”
The journalist reports that he
- saw one named campaign manager signing up an 80-year-old woman to a regular gift despite her home displaying a ‘no cold calling’ sticker. This was justified because “doors with stickers are “perfect” and “best” because they don’t get knocked as much”.
- discovered fundraisers “often give donors the impression that they work directly for the charity rather than an agency”.
- was advised to focus on elderly people and service people for donations, the latter “because they’re used to following orders”.
With a nod towards the company’s aim of employing people with a criminal record to help them rehabilitate themselves, the journalist also adds that he:
- witnessed five NEET Feet employees on three separate occasions smoking cannabis.
- heard some employees claiming still to be dealing drugs
So, the criticisms reflect the key issues highlighted by similar media investigations in 2015 of some charities and some of their agencies, namely:
- vulnerable donors
- charity oversight of fundraising agencies
- respect for donors and how they are approached
The investigation focuses on the journalist’s short experience at the agency. It does not include interviews with any of the donors or members of the public who encountered NEET Feet’s fundraisers, whether those named in the article or indeed those who were not found to act in the ways alleged. Given the importance of focusing on what the donor wants and expects – the Fundraising Regulator focuses on donors rather than charities – this is a notable absence in the investigation.
Nor does the article make reference to the Fundraising Code of Practice.
NEET Feet operates in Bristol, London, Glasgow and Cardiff. It is, according to The Sun, about to open an office in Swansea. It describes itself as ‘The Happiness Machine’.
Its Facebook page has not been updated since October 2015, and it states “quality, long term donors and quality non-incentivised prospects are our service”. Its website consists of just two pages with little more than contact details.
UK Fundraising asked the company for a response to The Sun’s allegations but we have not yet received a reply.
Jeremy O’Neill, a direct of NEET Feet, told The Sun when confronted with the allegations:
“We’re absolutely gutted to read what this investigation has allegedly uncovered.
“We have launched an immediate investigation and have suspended all operations from Bristol. What you have told us is sickening and whilst this is an isolated few employees, nothing can condone these types of behaviours”.
The Sun pointed out that he previously worked at NTT Fundraising, which was criticised in 2014 for some of its fundraising practices by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, although the company hit back at the allegations. The Sun did note however that O’Neill left the company two years before the programme was aired.
Based on the training that the journalist received, the company does have a policy on avoiding fundraising from vulnerable people, including not approaching people aged 75 or over.
Save the Children, Unicef and Action for Children were quick to suspend or cancel their contracts with NEET Feet over the weekend after The Sun presented its allegations to them.
The Children’s Trust and Hft also told The Sun that they would launch investigations themselves into the allegations.
The investigation was published just three days after the new Fundraising Regulator took responsibility for setting and maintaining the standards of charitable fundraising. The Regulator confirmed to The Sun that it is investigating the allegations with the relevant charities.