A review of fundraising self-regulation

Visit the review webpage to see the terms of reference and consultation questions.

Charities have repeatedly been in the news following the sad death of volunteer fundraiser Olive Cooke. That such an inspiring, committed supporter of charity died as she did is a tragedy for her family and friends.

Despite a statement from her family that communication from charities did not cause her to take her own life, the issues raised have clearly hit a nerve.

For the media, parliament and the wider public, charities are very much in the dock. This has frankly been a terrible week in media terms. Investigations, indeed revelations, of poor or aggressive fundraising calls have shocked not just the public, but also many people who work for charities.

It is not simply enough to blame sections of the media: senior journalists in newspapers traditionally supportive of charities tell us that their postbags are full of complaints about fundraising.

As a sector, we need to take action so that the public retain their confidence in us.

The review

I have therefore agreed to a request from the minister for civil society, Rob Wilson, to lead a review of fundraising self-regulation. The review will take evidence from many stakeholders – including those representing vulnerable groups – in order to identify what changes are required to rebuild public trust in fundraising by charities.

As part of our work, we will look at approaches to regulation in other areas, with a goal of identifying changes that will substantially strengthen the current system.

The review panel will have representation from the different political parties.

The minister has asked me to report back by mid-September.

Action must follow

A review in and of itself will not lead to change. We will need to make clear recommendations, with a timetable for implementation, and those recommendations will need the support of fundraising charities in particular.

My judgement is that this is an opportunity for charities to show leadership and to demonstrate to the public that they can put their own house in order, so I would urge all those with an interest to engage with the review.

It is crucial to get fundraising right

Finally, I wish to be clear that charity fundraising has never been more important. Many charities are in a tight financial position, still dealing with the increased demand for their services prompted by the economic downturn of recent years.

This is why it is particularly crucial that we get fundraising right. We cannot afford to jeopardise charities’ fundraising now or in the future. We must find sustainable solutions that can ensure the public continues to have faith in charities in the long term – that is what I aim to do.

If you would like to contact me about this review, you can comment here, or email me on tell@ncvo.org.uk.

Visit the review webpage to see the terms of reference and consultation questions.

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Stuart Etherington Sir Stuart Etherington was chief executive of NCVO from 1994 to 2019.

39 Responses to A review of fundraising self-regulation

  1. Thank you for what you are doing

    We believe in ethical fundraising but part of this us respecting the privacy of someone’s home and so cold calling, door stepping and mail shots to people we don’t know are things we consider unacceptable

    Happy to talk further : http://www.disability-challengers.org/fundraising

    • Mark Simms says:

      We believe in and take part in fundraising that supports our work, based on sound ethical principles. We do not use cold calling, chuggers, mail drops and the like. It’s intrusive and does more harm than good to our reputation and to our cause. I’d be delighted to take part in this review. Sadly I believe we are on the verge of being seen as part of the PPI / you’ve had an accident /are you thinking of having double glazing calls/mailshots. We listened too much to people who claim that they can help drive up charitable income without realising what the true cost is.

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  3. Jackie Ballard says:

    I think – to be credible – that the review has to seriously consider the pros and cons of independent regulation of fundraising.

  4. Tim Davies says:

    As a small charity we value our relationship with supporters too much to take advantage by door stepping or using “Chuggers” or other intrusive methods, however the squeeze on local government funding means we will in the future rely more than ever on regular giving. We need a clear strategy that leads us to supporters that want to help us and to benefit our cause whilst balancing our respect for our supporters privacy.

    I feel we as charities are all potentially “tarred with the same brush” when persistent, pushy fundraisers use these kinds of hard nosed tactics to gather regular givers and would welcome better standards of regulation.

    I hope however that the process of getting there does not bring the sector into further dis-repute or close down opportunities for charities (particularly the smaller ones) to develop their local profile and get their message out.

    That’s a complex task you have taken on with so many implications, I am confident you will approach it with all due care to reach a positive, proactive outcome.

  5. Andy Brelsford says:

    Please remember in the review that the problems were caused in the main by the big charities – the vast majority of the sector is made up of smaller charities who do not use the services of professional fund raisers or undertake cold calling but rely on traditional methods of fund raising like collection tins & fun days.
    The Sector is not in crisis (as is often reported) but a small number of the bigger charities – who are increasingly behaving like big businesses – are making it harder for all of us!

    • Julia Baron says:

      I completely agree with this view. There are over 180,000 registered charities and only a handful of these fall into the category of the aggressive fundraising techniques. In most cases the household names charities are the ones who have come under the spotlight but we are all being tarred with the same brush. They have the resources to write policies and protocols etc but the burden (and cost) of proving that we aren’t doing anything wrong (when we weren’t anyway) will fall on us little guys. Shame on them!

  6. Lynne Walsh says:

    It’s time someone put the brakes on this damaging industry.
    I’ve worked in communications for scores of charities, and find all too often that a decent “PR” strategy is undermined by such fundraising tactics.
    Cold calling, stopping a stranger in the street or turning up on the doorstep is, effectively, saying to that individual:”I’m going to ask you to be more charitable than you are.”
    What an offensive assumption – no better than a stranger on the door, peddling ‘their’ religion, on the basis that it must be better than your own!
    On a personal level, I’ve stopped making donations via text, as that elicits a month of unwanted calls, and I give cash to charity shops, i.e. without giving any contact details. I ‘gift aid’ donations annually to only three charities, who do not use any of these tactics.

  7. I have two initial comments. The first is that this inquiry looks to me like a serious conflict of interest for one sector umbrella organisation to be reviewing another (or several) as if it is in some way a ‘higher’ authority! And I am not at all comfortable sharing any comments or input until I know who else is involved in the review and it’s independence is assured – I have not been able to find this information.

    Secondly, I believe the voluntary sector has a rather rosy view of the effectiveness of statutory regulation. I work in a sector where some activities are subject to statutory regulation and others are overseen by self-regulating professional bodies. Statutory regulation has tended towards a lowest level of accreditation and has not, indeed probably cannot, focus on good practice. Statutory bodies are squeezed financially in the current climate and are not serving the public well in many areas of professional activity including pensions and health. We see cases where the professional workforce is alienated and resentful especially when ’employers’ work towards minimum standards set by regulators when the public expects best practice. As a result, we see less innovation and good practice and more tick box sufficiency. Worst of all, the quality of professional judgement on standards, ethics and practice then comes down to a quasi judicial process of great cost and questionable effectiveness, which in turn actively destroys professional confidence and discourages skilled and committed people from entering the profession. And then it all unravels – there are lots of examples and it would be a great shame if fundraising went the same way.

    • Aidan Warner Aidan Warner says:

      Thanks Diana. Stuart will be chairing a small group with various backgrounds who will oversee the review. The Cabinet Office will be publishing the terms of reference for the review and the group membership shortly, and we’ll update the blog with a link when we have it.

    • Ben says:

      Very good points. A lot of ink has been spilled since 2008 on the merits of regulation in the financial sector, with the upshot (as far as I can see) that rules-based, statutory regulation is a (more or less) blind alley, and that simple(r), principles-based regulatory models have far more purchase, especially in culture change. I’m also thinking of the Leveson Enquiry, conducted with great fanfare, but which (to my knowledge) has not so far lead to a satisfactory resolution of the question of media regulation. Interesting to see whether and how the Sir Stuart integrates learnings from these examples into the review.

  8. graham says:

    I agree with many comments above. to quote andy
    Please remember in the review that the problems were caused in the main by the big charities – the vast majority of the sector is made up of smaller charities who do not use the services of professional fund raisers or undertake cold calling but rely on traditional methods of fund raising like collection tins & fun days.
    The Sector is not in crisis (as is often reported) but a small number of the bigger charities – who are increasingly behaving like big businesses – are making it harder for all of us!
    Perhaps a set of fund raising rules banning chugging/ cold calling/e mails etc could be implemented on charites with a turnover above says a turnover million pounds and leave the rest of us alone.

  9. Chris Casey says:

    Some thing really needs to be done about the way some large charities bully the public into parting with their money. Three years ago several of my friends and myself participated in the race for life and raised a lot of money.Afterwards we all received several calls saying we hadn’t paid in our donations which we had which was really annoying.Then out of the blue I received a call asking for more money on a monthly basis which I said I was unable to commit too,the caller then said angrily “I might need them in the future”sadly the reason I ran the race for life, was that my lovely husband had just died of brain cancer! They really need to get their acts together.!!

  10. Mike Sarson says:

    We are a small charity and believe 100% in ethical fundraising. We are all volunteers helping vulnerable people into recovery and do not support aggressive fundraising tactics which often have a negative effect on the voluntary sector.

  11. Andy Pakula says:

    Aggressive techniques of getting money from people should be tightly regulated – whether for charitable contributions, begging, or sales.

    On the other hand, restricting letters or emails seems an unacceptable abridgement of the freedom of expression and the ability of organisations of all sorts to operate.

    The latter sort of challenges need to be addressed at the consumer side, rather than through restrictions on charities. People overwhelmed by too many letters should be supported in how to block unsolicited messages, but this should not be an excuse to handicap the charities that are becoming increasingly essential to keep people alive in a climate where government aid is being cut.

  12. Delighted that NCVO is doing this and am assured of its professionalism and total impartiality.

    However given NCVO has a lottery licence from the Gambling Commission to run the Give & Win online lottery, how will this conflict of interest be practically managed?

    • Aidan Warner Aidan Warner says:

      Thanks Dave.

      Lotteries are a slightly different beast and they aren’t in the scope of this review.

      You might be interested anyway in our views on society lotteries. In short, we think they are a helpful income source for charities, and there should be proportionate deregulation of them, with an eye to potential risks to charities’ reputation. And we also think there should be greater transparency about the money going to the end cause. More here: http://blogs.ncvo.org.uk/2015/03/25/society-lotteries-giving-or-gambling/

  13. Yvonne says:

    As a professional fundraiser I have never used intrusive methods of fundraising and comply with recommendations of the IoF. I prefer to develop relationships between appropriate donors and charities whist encouraging income generation projects.

  14. I don’t think that the unfortunate events surrounding Olive is an isolated incident.

    There have been many occasions whilst walking through shopping centres, representatives of the large national charities will deliberately move into your walking route and seek a direct debit donation scheme signature.

    I often quote the self regulatory responsibilities of members of the FRSB, of which we are a member (since the FRSB’s inception), to these individuals but it seems not be registering with them.

    It is extremely distasteful to see the large national charities behaving this way, as it creates an evermore challenging fundraising environment for smaller regional or local charities.

    If national charities continue to ‘outsource’ the fundraising, then public giving will become a rarity as many people are now experiencing the aggressive techniques of street/doorstep presentations and pressurised invitations to commit to direct debit giving.

    The FRSB and similar bodies need teeth to tackle the unscrupulous tactics employed by the big charities.

  15. Elaine says:

    I feel it will be a good thing to stop these charities hiring “cold call” establishments to collect money through monthly standing orders. I have been pressurised many times on the telephone and when approached in the street I just will not stop.

    Our charity raises their own money as we do not receive funding from our head charity very often. We are a small local charity run by volunteers and do most of our fundraising through collections and functions. We do not go out of our way to sign people up for monthly payments as I know many people cannot afford to give monthly and feel guilty if they turn you down. We do have friends of our charity who do give monthly but they give off their own back.

    It would be good to stop the major charities giving us small local charities a bad name through pressure, as most people do not realise that we are not involved in the pressure of larger organisations and have to rely on what we can collect locally.

  16. A few first thoughts:
    – pretty sure chuggers will come up
    – is this about trust in charities and/or trust in charity fundraising?
    – this needs to be relevant and proportionate to the different size of charities
    – let’s make sure existing good practice and standards are visible and celebrated. We should set the example of asset based approaches – ‘build on what’s strong not on what’s wrong’
    – can we quantify the scale of the problem?
    – a recent Guardian article seemed to suggest fundraisers often feel marginalised. Let’s not make that worse.
    – there is a difference for me between the input of people who give to charity and those that don’t, as well as those who work for charities and are involved in them and those who are not. Not sure that this is easy to quantify but worth considering and distinguishing between. Just as one example I would hate for the voice of the angry few who have always been against charity and have never given, or given very little, to sway the debate. In balance the voice of those who have been put off giving because of certain methods are crucial to hear and understand.
    – a final political point: it would be nice if similar corporate transgressions received such a robust and speedy government response but then this is our chance to show how different charities really are and how responsible our sector is
    Thanks for this work. Ben

    Another more personal comment… My Dad died suddenly a few months ago. He was a lifelong and generous supporter of many charities giving both his money and time as a campaigner. His example has shaped and inspired my volunteering and work within the charity sector. His death has given me two powerful examples of the sort of best practice in fundraising that I hope this review can celebrate and recognise.

    Firstly I have called a number of the charities he supported to change or cancel the mailing details on their records. All have responded sensitively and promptly. One in particular sent a personal letter straight away to thank our family for my Dad’s giving and they enclosed a book of prayers which was very moving and helpful in the process of grieving.

    Secondly at my Dad’s thanksgiving we invited donations as part of Christian Aid Week which he had been a lifelong supporter of. People were incredibly generous. Following the donation Christian Aid got in contact to sensitively explain that as this was a legacy gift there were options for the gift to be match funded by the government. There were three different options for this in terms of giving to different projects around the world. The one that we as a family chose matched the giving at the thanksgiving at an incredible 20:1 ratio. At a very sad time this encouragement has meant a great deal. It is a tribute to the hard work of fundraisers at Christian Aid that this has been possible and they have handled the whole process with care and clarity for us to understand. My Dad would have been so glad to know that all his life of giving was celebrated in this way and as he would have said it shows ‘God’s economy’.

    We have much to celebrate in our charities and their fundraising, as well as challenges to face and changes to make.

  17. As a founder and Chair of a small charity I have to agree with many of the comments already made. We do not use cold calling; mail shots; door stepping or any other such intrusive methods of fundraising. We were one of the early members of the FRSB and ensure that everything we do is carried out within the guidelines they and other organisations such as the IoF issue. Whilst I am sure not all small charities are blameless I do have to agree with those who have commented that a lot of the bad press bought on the charity/non-profit sector is as a result of the actions of some of the larger charities. I feel that continued self-regulation is the way forward however the body overseeing this needs to be given sufficient teeth to do the job properly e.g. being able to fine charities who break the rules just as the energy regulator does with energy companies who are guilty of mis-selling.

    At the same time I think it would be beneficial, as at least one contributor has said, to champion examples of good practice in fund-raising which other charities can then adapt to their own particular circumstances.

  18. Thankyou for taking the lead on this important area.
    Many good posts on this already.
    We agree with the objectives in your blog and would like to participate particularly when terms of reference are clarified.

  19. Sarah Taylor says:

    I have worked as a professional fundraiser for many years, working for charities raising funding from charitable trusts and foundations, lottery, local government etc.

    I have sympathy with the issues and the circumstances many charities find themselves in. I have always objected to chugging and other unsolicited approaches as I find them intrusive although I can understand why charities have taken this approach.

    On a personal level, I currently support one charity via Direct Debit and am considering another, but this decision arose from my own actions and an unsolicited approach would definitely deter me from supporting a charity.

    As a number of people have commented, I think that any aggressive approaches do far more harm than good and there is always the danger of highly negative press coverage as with Olive Cooke.

    This aside, I can fully understand why charities feel that this is a solution. One previous commentator stated that the voluntary sector was not in crisis; it certainly isn’t terribly healthy in Nottinghamshire!

    Last week I attended a meeting to be told that yet another charity had gone under and made a phone call later that day to find out that an excellent community transport scheme was in serious danger of going through if replacement funding could not be secured in the near future. They had already taken over the work of another charity who had had to entirely cut one aspect of their work due to funding cuts. I personally think that the voluntary sector is in worse shape than it has ever been, which is why unsolicited funding approaches are being seen as the answer.

  20. Lynda Davies says:

    I agree with some of the comments above. Smaller charities are less likely to be involved in the less savoury aspects of fundraising – chugging, mail shots, telephone requests . I have both worked for charities ( paid and unpaid) and given to charity. When fundraising for a charity it is vitally important to be clear where the money will go, what proportion of it will go to the work of the charity and if the fundraiser is being paid. As someone who gives to charity, I ignore chuggers who are not working for charities I regularly support, explain to those chuggers who are, that I already give to the charity and am not about to change that. When telephoned to increase my donations, I always refuse Unwanted mailings go in the paper recycling minus my identifying details.I will consider whether I want to continue to support any organisation which I consider to be intrusive in any way. I have in the past reported direct to the charity any conduct which I consider intrusive and insisted on having my name removed from their donor list.
    It should not all be about charities, the general public needs to be more proactive about reporting any abuses, and making more informed decisions about how to spend their money.
    I believe that the charity sector is closer to being above reproach than many public sector companies, private businesses and government officials and I hope your survey points that out too.

  21. Michael Ryder says:

    I agree with Jackie Ballard that to carry conviction this review will need to look dispassionately at the pros and cons of independent regulation. Like others who have commented, I am confident that the organisation with which I am involved has not crossed any ethical boundaries. Few will have anything more to fear from this review than from the requirement to produce properly presented annual accounts. If “it wasn’t us”, then we will not be hurt by well-informed recommendations.

  22. I fundraise for a local charity which offers support to anyone in the North Lancashire and South Lakeland area who is faced with coping with cancer or another life limiting condition. We are relatively small and rely on donations for 85% of our income. Our way of approaching all our fundraising, which has included limited telephone and door to door approaches, is to keep in mind that the donor, client and prospective client are all potentially the same person. We have been challenged with the assumption that we are a national charity and had to spend some time explaining that we are not. We have publicly supported the review and are keen to be actively involved in any initiatives which help to reassure the public. I do agree that the strength of the backlash from Olive Cooke’s sad story is very much connected with the tactics of companies making unsolicted PPI or other sales calls etc. Our door to door lottery canvasser has certainly found that people are happy to talk to her when they realise she is representing a local charity.

  23. Grace says:

    Reviews will always give insights to the pros and cons. Thanks

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  25. Clearly there are charities whose financial lifeblood is the funds that they raise from individuals, rather than like us, directly approaching corporates, normally in person or by e-mail, (albeit with a very low success rate).

    We do not seek funds from individuals, but of course accept whatever is offered (usually used mobility aids, and unwanted powerchairs and scooters, where in cases of hardship, such as bereavement, we make a small payment by way of grant).

    We also make a small trading income from our Freedom Resource Recovery activity (a business to business recycling equivalent of a charity shop). We sell powerchairs etc. to those who can afford to buy, or give grants towards them for those who cannot.

    We still struggle to fund all that we wish to do, but do not believe we should even approach individuals who might be fragile or in reduced circumstances.

    However, rather than pro-active cold calling, should not advertising be used to invite opt-ins? Local newspapers will promote good causes with a story to tell at no cost. Solicitors could also be provided centrally with one pack, updated periodically, to invite legacies.

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  27. Sue Whitman says:

    A few questions based on the range of responses above:

    – define ‘aggressive’ when it comes to fundraising tactics – highly subjective term open to a wide variety of interpretations, and in any case who are we to decide what others consider to be too much or too little?

    – several ‘small’ charities responding here suggesting they’re completely in the clear – creating that kind of ‘them’ and ‘us’ in the sector isn’t the best way forward either. And have you ever stopped to consider why you might still be classed as ‘small’? Might that be your very high moral ground limiting your horizons? What would your supporters like – how do they want to hear from you, who else might be interested in supporting your cause and how can you reach them? Surely your cause deserves you making every effort you can to find a way to sustain and grow the impact your charitable spend has, or will you only help the small few because you prize that moral standpoint more than the impact of helping those in need?

    – freedom of speech… whatever happened to that? supporters and donors have every avenue available to say what they want and don’t want. we need to promote these more, and ensure people understand their own responsibility in dictating the conditions around contacting them – we’re not psychic!

  28. Claire Ross-Baker says:

    I would like to know more about how this review is being undertaken and to be reassured that there will be representation from charities of all sizes.

    In principle I am supportive of recommendations that will help to restore trust in charities and to ensure that we are seen to be able to regulate ourselves based on the values that most charities subscribe to – those of respect and care for our beneficiaries and supporters. I would support a self-regulatory approach rather than statutory regulation for the simple reason that we, as charities, should care enough about building positive relationships with our donors and listening to their views.

    At the same time I do feel though that the media have a part to play in the way that this issue has been represented (and not reflecting necessarily the views of the family in the case of Olive Cooke) and the speed at which they are happy to paint charities as greedy, money grabbing outfits on a par with private companies. I agree with the comments about the responsibilities of big charities (with the top few hundred raising about half the total income per year) but don’t agree with a two tiered regulation system – the principles should be consistently applied so the public and donors know what to expect from their relationship with the charities they support. However, I do feel that as an industry we need to be more vocal about the regulation we have put in place and best practice we adhere to (although there are areas for improvement) and should not be ashamed of the concept of asking people to support the causes we care about but that should not make us complacent. The environment is tough for charities with public sector cuts and growing need for services and I could not support regulation that prevented charities from contacting the majority of their supporters as a knee-jerk reaction to media scrutiny. I think charities need to rethink how we can build long-lasting and respectful relationships with our donors when we communicate with them with mass mailing or emails – this is the challenge we face as fundraising needs to evolve whilst maintaining its integrity and its income at the same time in a changing and challenging environment.

  29. Brian Seaton says:

    This post put me in mind of the well-known saying by Hélder Pessoa Câmara, catholic archbishop of Olinda & Recife, Brazil – (I paraphrase) – “When I call for a review of charity fundraising self-regulation they call me innovative, when I ask why a review is necessary they call me an out-of-touch reactionary”.

    The dictionary definition of “charity” – ie: the common, “man on the Clapham omnibus” understanding of what charity is all about – is typically along the lines “the voluntary giving of money/time to help those in need”. The two essential criteria being: (1) voluntary giving; (2) for those in need.
    The Charities Act definition of “charity” takes a quite different approach, specifying 13 purposes which are to be regarded as “charitable”. Of those, only a small minority have any reference, explicit or implicit, to “for those in need” and there is no reference at all to “voluntary giving”. Instead the two primary criteria are: (1) Not-for-profit; (2) for the public benefit.
    Humpty Dumpty (“When I use a word …. it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less”, Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll) couldn’t have done a better job on the meaning of “charity”.

    Of course, there is considerable overlap between the two definitions. But voluntary giving to those in need isn’t always legally charitable; and not-for-profit services for the public benefit are not always recognisable as “charity” to “the man on the Clapham omnibus”.
    By way of illustration: Take two totally different examples: (1) the raising of a large sum of money for Alan Barnes, the gentleman with learning difficulties who was ruthlessly mugged; (2) Nuffield Health – the provider of health and fitness facilities with an annual turnover (2013 Accounts) in excess of £600M. When I asked a group of charity workers whether they were “charity” or not, the majority thought that example (1) was “charity” and that example (2) was not a charity but just a commercial organisation. They were wrong on both counts! The public outpouring of generosity for Alan Barnes was NOT, legally, “charity” because the money was raised for an individual not for the Public Benefit. Nuffield Health IS a registered charity, because although it has no significant voluntary income (even its Trustees are remunerated under special dispensation from the Charity Commission), in strict compliance with the Charities Act, it is a not-for-profit deliverer of Public Benefit by“providing services that its beneficiaries are prepared to pay for” (not much evidence of “for those in need” there).

    The problem is this: The majority of small charities, which still have as their core values the “common” understanding of charity (ie: voluntary donations of money/time to help those in need) are now being “encouraged” (ie: put under political pressure in the name of “The Big Society”) to become bigger and more “commercial”. The argument is the economic “market forces” mantra that “bigger” is “more efficient and effective” and, therefore “better” than small. (By contrast, see: “Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Really Mattered”, by EF Schumacher). But as small charities seek to emulate bigger charities by focusing on income generation though selling their services for the public benefit rather through voluntary funding so “charity fundraising” is rapidly becoming a euphemism for “commercial marketing”. At the beginning of the millennium charity income from voluntary sources exceeded earned (ie: “commercial”) income by 25%. By 2013 (the latest figures available) that had reversed and earned income exceeded voluntary income by more than 50%. (Source: NCVO Almanac – http://data.ncvo.org.uk/a/almanac15/economy/). So, contrary to the dictionary definition (“common understanding”) of “charity”, British “charity” is now predominantly neither “voluntary” nor “for those in need”. HM Revenue & Customs explains this apparent contradiction in a sublime piece of Humpty Dumpty ism (Guidance Publication VCHAR2050) “You should not confuse the way in which a charity fulfils its objects with the charitable nature of the objects. There is nothing to stop a charity charging a large amount of money for its charitable services.”

    And with that transition comes the supplanting of the moral values of “charity” with the amoral economic values of “commerce” – as eloquently described by Michael Sandel in his book “What Money Can’t Buy: The moral limits of markets”. And as “charity marketing” is encouraged to be commercially amoral so the vulnerable, like Olive Cooke, become the legitimate target of high-pressure emotive marketing tactics which recognise only economic criteria of success – how much money has been raised – not the moral perspectives of either the donor or the charity’s beneficiaries.

    A fundamental difference between charity marketing and commercial marketing is that when someone responds to commercial marketing to buy a product/service they at least get the product/service “in their own hands” and can judge for themselves the value-for-money of what they have paid for. Any significant shortcomings in the “fitness for purpose” of the product/service is likely to be cover by relevant legislation for the sale of goods and/or services. But despite the provisions of such legislation you only have to look at the constant flow of reports from Which (ie: The Consumers’ Association – also a charity) to see that the use of marketing hyperbole – from the intentionally misleading to the downright dishonest – is widespread.
    It is not for nothing that the maxim “Caveat emptor” – let the buyer beware – is widely understood.

    But with charity marketing: it’s generally the charity’s beneficiaries, NOT the donor, who get what the donor is being asked to pay for. So most donations to charity are predicated on the donors’ belief that the fundraising appeal (AKA “marketing”) to which they are responding is morally based, ie: they can trust completely what they are being told about where my money is going to. That may not be a big issue for small local charities where the donors can usually see for themselves how their money is spent. But if the pressure is on charities to become more efficient and effective by becoming “big commercial” organisations, how is a donor to know whether the money that they gave actually ended up being used for the charity’s beneficiaries as they intended?
    In my early career as an academic/research biochemist some of my colleagues worked on projects funded from monies donated for cancer research (still one of the largest attractors of charity donations). I was acutely aware that many of those cancer research funded projects seemed to have very little prospect of finding a cure for cancer. It seemed that the funding charities had so much money at their disposal that they could afford to fund just about anything for which a “plausible” cancer-related justification could be made. And it was absolutely clear that most donors to those charities did not, and unless they themselves were involved in cancer research at a very high level, could not have had any real understanding of how their donations were being spent, or even what benefits were being achieved from their donations. Ever since I have declined to donate to any cancer research charity.

    Will the “commercialisation” of charities have a “boom and then bust” effect? Will the growth of amoral charity marketing have a counter-productive negative effect on people’s trust and, therefore, their willingness to donate? “Chuggers” – cold-calling charity fundraisers – are already being seen on a par with rogue traders with their aggressively persuasive offers to “re-tarmac your drive or repair your gutters”. And as previously regular donors feel that they are now just being mercilessly hounded or exploited by charities will they simply give up donating to “charity” altogether (the Olive Clarke effect)? Michael Sanders book refers specifically to the negative impact of trying to apply commercial marketing to philanthropic giving. And in that scenario, will the amoral, if not immoral, marketing activities of large charities take the small charities down with them?

    So are we seeing the emergence of a new maxim? Caveat donator – let the donor beware?

    Some action points to be considered in the review:
    1. All charity marketing – in particular the soliciting of support for a specific project or the selling of “rewards” as a way of raising money (eg: crowd funding; charity raffles; cold-calling, whether “doorstep” or by telephone) should make it explicitly clear “up front” – ie: BEFORE the donor has committed to donating – what percentage of the “donations” for that particular project get taken up by the associated fundraising/administration costs.

    2. It should be illegal for the charity to quote just their overall aggregated fundraising/administration costs, as indicative of their costs for a specific project as this allows the deceptive use of figures which are diluted by other low-cost fundraising (eg: regular donations);

    3. It should be illegal for ostensibly specific fundraising/marketing (eg: implying that the donations will go to a particular project) to include any kind of “small print” which allows the charity to divert the donations to other projects beyond that which is specifically approved by the Charity Commission under the principle of cy-près.

    4. Commercial marketing practices clearly demonstrate that, even with extensive sale of goods and services legislation the “art of marketing” is all too often one of “creating the maximum selling power – ie: customer deception – within the bounds of the law”. If amoral commercial marketing becomes the norm, in place of moral charity fundraising, it seems unlikely that self regulation is going to be sufficient to constrain the excesses of those marketeers whose only interest is maximising their own income rather than the best interests of either the charity’s beneficiaries or its donors.

  30. Patrick Forsyth says:

    I agree whole-heartedly with Brian Seaton, and hope his comments will be taken on board by the Review.

  31. Nicki Mumby says:

    As a founder and Chair of a small charity I ensure that our fundraising is not intrusive. We do not use cold calling,mail shots, door stepping. We run local fundraising events with something for everyone (book stalls, craft stalls, cakes, small raffle and tombola, games). We invite other groups to join us at these events so making events truly community orientated. We were one of the early members of the FRSB and ensure that everything we do is carried out within their guidelines. We have never had any complaints and in fact keep great links with supporters who donate goods, etc.. for future events.

  32. Jaye Nolan says:

    I’m unsure how extensive this review will be, but if looking at fundraising behaviours overall, myself and others I know share a concern over the ridiculous salaries paid to executive staff in certain organisations. I fail to see how they can justify them in relation to a normal full time salary. I object to money I donate just going towards someone maintaining a certain lifestyle instead to the people they’re supposed to be helping: There should be a cap on these salaries. It’s frustrating for myself and others (I’m an unpaid festival director of an unfunded voluntary group) when we volunteers effectively work for free, while someone who is purely a figurehead/advocate is earning £50k pa – especially if the organisation has received funding to pay it, in what is such a competitive environment.

  33. Lee says:

    I totally agree with most of the comments that have been posted especially Brian Seaton comment.However some of the charities may need to rethink their strategy on approach to fund raising. Because some of the chuggers can be aggressive, intrusive not forgetting violation of personal space.

  34. Terry Hayes says:

    My concern is that better regulation is needed regarding the door to door activities of fundraisers which I would suggest put even more pressure on vulnerable people as these ‘enthusiastic’ sellers are usually reluctant to take a polite no for an answer and seek to continue a conversation. I would define this as aggressive ‘selling’. My response is that we give regularly to a charity that as far as we are aware relies on direct giving and do not give to charities who employ paid fundraisers. This is my viewpoint (which should be respected whether it is right or wrong) and should end the conversation but invariably doesn’t. My concern is that their approach could end up as a form of pressure selling to vulnerable people. Another concern is that it is disconcerting to have people whom you do not know knocking at your door after dark in the winter months which they are apparently allowed to do up to 9pm. Again this is an issue particularly for older people.