Charities should be forced to sign up to a "fundraising preference service" allowing vulnerable people to block appeals for donations, according to a report commissioned after the suicide of Olive Cooke which recommended creating a powerful new regulatory body.
Organisations would have to stop sending fundraising requests or make phone calls to those who have opted out and the public could opt out of fundraising requests from multiple charities without having to contact them separately.
Charities which seriously or persistently breached the rules would be named and shamed and could be forced to halt their fundraising until any problems are resolved.
The review, commissioned by the Government following concerns about how charities have engaged with potential donors, found that the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) has failed in its duties and lost the confidence of the public and charities.
The FRSB, which currently regulates fundraising, must be closed down and replaced with a more effective outfit with tougher sanctions, it recommended.
Concerns about charities’ behaviour were raised recently following the death of Ms Cooke, Britain’s oldest poppy seller. The Bristol fundraiser suffered depression and left a suicide note saying she was also suffering from insomnia and could ‘take no more’.
While not directly linking charities to her death, family and friends said the 92-year-old had been hounded by organisations constantly asking her for money. Ms Cooke, a retired postal worker, dedicated 76 years of her life to raising money for the Royal British Legion and is believed to have sold about 30,000 poppies.
The FRSB reported over 48,000 complaints against charities in 2013 from an estimated 20 billion donor contacts with the majority concerning post addressed to a named person.
“Since the events surrounding the death of Olive Cooke, fundraising has been the subject of substantial media and public interest,” the report said. “However, not all agree that there is cause for concern.”
The panel found that although charities and voluntary organisations are “largely trusted” and that there is “little evidence” that charitable giving is in decline”, many charities still believed that the volume of complaints in relation to the volume of fundraising activity was “relatively minor and as such can be ignored”.
The report said: “Such arguments are troublesome. Britain remains a generous society, but in a culture characterised by the decline of deference, limited brand loyalty and rising pressure on discretionary income, charitable giving should not be assumed to continue at the same level.
“Further, we have heard many arguments that the current approach to complaints monitoring fails to sufficiently represent levels of unhappiness with fundraising. As such, we conclude that strengthening both the regulation of fundraising and the role of charity trustees is necessary to protect the charity brand.”
The review said a new Fundraising Regulator should set its own standards for fundraising good practice. Currently, the FRSB adjudicates against standards set by fundraisers themselves via their trade body, the Institute of Fundraising, which review said is “an inappropriate arrangement” that is not in the public interest and has damaged fundraising regulation.
It said the FRSB has been in a weak position since its creation having no control over the setting of standards and has also been too eager to resolve complaints informally rather than taking tough action against breaches of the fundraising code.
All charities that spend over £100,000 a year on fundraising from the public, around 2,000 organisations, would be expected to contribute to the costs of the proposed regulator. It would be better funded by charities and have strong links with the Charity Commission and Information Commissioner to ensure charities followed its rules, the panel said.
The new regulator would report to parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee on a regular basis to ensure parliament has an opportunity to scrutinise its work on the public’s behalf.
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations who chaired the review, said: “Britain is a tremendously generous country, and people have enormous goodwill for charities. But charities must not take that for granted. We seem to have found ourselves in a position where charities didn’t think hard enough about what it was like to be on the receiving end of some of their fundraising methods. They thought too much about the ends and not enough about the means. This has been a clear wake-up call and now is the time to tighten the standards.
“The current system of self-regulation has quite clearly failed to prevent serious breaches of trust and widespread dissatisfaction. I believe the changes we propose will be an effective way to reform the system.”
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