Four major charities in telephony fundraising breach

In an investigation into telephone fundraising practices at GoGen, four of the biggest and well known charities have been found in breach of industry standards.

| 11th May 16

In an investigation report into telephone fundraising practices at GoGen, the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) has found the telephone fundraising agency and four major charities – British Red Cross, Macmillan, NSPCC and Oxfam – in breach of industry standards.

The FRSB’s investigation commenced last July after the Daily Mail published an undercover investigative report into telephone fundraising practices at GoGen while fundraising on behalf of the British Red Cross, Macmillan, NSPCC and Oxfam.

The newspaper alleged that these charities were ‘hounding’ the vulnerable and elderly for donations over the telephone, even when supporters had opted out of receiving marketing calls. It was reported that all four charities had been making calls to households registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). Reporters also raised concerns about fundraisers’ approach towards vulnerable people and were particularly critical of GoGen’s training procedures.

GoGen ceased trading just weeks after the Daily Mail’s investigative report was published. Each of the four charities subsequently reviewed their telephone fundraising programmes and procedures in respect of third-party agencies and have since implemented significant improvements to their processes.


The investigation

During the investigation, the FRSB reviewed all case evidence supplied relating to GoGen, the British Red Cross, Macmillan, NSPCC and Oxfam, assessing fundraising practices against the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice as it stood in July 2015, to which UK fundraisers are expected to comply.

The FRSB established that while all four charities had monitoring procedures in place, they were not sufficient or adequately carried out to monitor GoGen’s delivery of their telephone fundraising campaigns appropriately. Macmillan and the British Red Cross were also found to have breached industry guidelines by failing to make it clear to supporters how their contact data may be used.

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. The agency was also in breach of the Code when advocating the use of pressurising techniques during fundraiser training sessions and for failing to make clear that the purpose of telephone calls was to seek financial support.

The FRSB did not uphold additional allegations against the four charities, which included a failure to use solicitation statements or to impose TPS restrictions. The Code in use 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. (Amendments have since been made to this section of the Code making it clear that explicit consent must be obtained from TPS-registered individuals before a telephone fundraising approach can be made).

Each of the four charities involved in the investigation have implemented significant changes since last summer, which include closer monitoring of third parties to ensure compliance with the Code, increased spot checks, mystery shopping and listening in to more calls.


Meeting standards

Commenting on the investigation findings, Andrew Hind, chair of the Fundraising Standards Board, said: “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.”

The FRSB has also issued recommendations to further 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.

The investigation report is available at the FRSB’s latest investigations web page.