How charities are addressing concerns about fundraising

What concerns have there been over fundraising, and how are charities addressing them?

Charities take concerns about fundraising seriously and have acted to avoid problems recurring

Key changes

  • Charities have created a new fundraising regulator to make sure rules are always followed
  • Charities have overhauled how they work with fundraising agencies. They will make agencies set out how they will protect vulnerable people.
  • Fundraising preference service being developed to help people deal with unmanageable levels of fundraising requests

In 2015, concerns were raised about some of the methods some charities were using to fundraise with the public. These followed the high-profile case of Olive Cooke, a life-long Royal British Legion fundraiser who took her own life. Ms Cooke had previously complained to her local paper about the volume of fundraising requests she had received, saying that she had received 267 charity mailings in one month. Some sought to link her frustrations over fundraising with her death. While such a link was rejected by her family, it had the effect of raising the profile of public concerns with charity fundraising.

Shortly after, a series of exposés uncovered poor practice at fundraising agencies – private call centre companies that undertake telephone fundraising on behalf of charities. They were accused of using inappropriate tactics to pressure potentially vulnerable charity supporters into donating more.

A review into how fundraising was regulated decided that the system was weak and needed to be improved.

How charities responded

A new regulator will oversee fundraising

Charities have responded to concerns by establishing a new body to oversee fundraising and uphold public confidence. The Fundraising Regulator is tasked with ensuring that all fundraising meets public expectations. The new regulator has been financially backed by dozens of household-name charities. It judges charities against a code of practice for fundraising which ensures they work respectfully and to high standards.

The Fundraising Regulator also works with the Charity Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office to ensure that any further concerns about how the charity has operated or has used data are also addressed.

From July 2017, there will also be a new fundraising preference service. This is a website (and phone line) where you can choose to stop receiving requests from a charity, either for yourself or a vulnerable relative. It’s only fair that if charities are asking you to support their work, they also give you a simple way to opt out if you don’t want to hear from them anymore.

Charities have overhauled how they work with agencies

Following the revelations about poor practice at some fundraising agencies, many charities suspended or cancelled their contracts with these agencies, and a number of agencies are no longer in business. Many charities have undertaken substantial reviews of their fundraising methods, revising how they contact supporters and potential supporters, and have also put in place greater oversight when they do outsource work to private agencies. Charities now make fundraising agencies sign up to written agreements that set out how they will avoid targeting anyone who may be vulnerable.

Getting it right for the future

Many charities ar eworking hard to overhaul how they go about fundraising. And a new programme, the Commission on the Donor Experience, has been set up to help charities make sure that they are being as responsive as they possibly can to donors’ needs and concerns.

If you have concerns

If you have concerns about how a charity is fundraising, you should raise it with the charity itself in the first instance. Charities will not want you to have a bad experience of their fundraising and will be keen to put things right. However, if you are not satisfied with their response, you can raise the issue with the Fundraising Regulator. You can read more about how to do this on its website.

Too many charities?

Sometimes, people say that there are too many charities. Are they right?

In reality, there are only as many charities as people are willing to set up and support. The fact that there are around 160,000 of them in the UK shows that millions of us are committed to trying to make a difference, whether that’s locally, nationally, or internationally.

But isn’t there a lot of duplication?

Lots of charities do do the same sort of thing. 12,000 of the UK’s charities are parent-teacher associations, for example, while another 7,000 are village halls. But that doesn’t mean that there’s too many of them. It wouldn’t make sense to close one parent-teacher association because another school already had one. The same goes for lots of local charities: they operate locally, so in another area there will be another similar charity. The vast majority of charities operate on this sort of small scale.

On a national level, there are a number of charities working in similar areas, but they often tend to concentrate on a specific element of an issue. One cancer charity may fund medical research, for example, while another focuses on care for people with cancer. This means they can concentrate on their area of expertise, and also gives donors more choice in where they put their money. Charities working on similar issues often work closely together.

It’s a good thing that we have lots of charities.

Ultimately, there’s a free market for charities: people can support the charities they want to, whether through donations or volunteering. If people don’t feel there’s a need for the charity, then it won’t exist.

It’s important that you should be able to set up a charity if you want to. It’s a strength of our society that people can get together in this way to work for a good cause. Lots of other countries try to work out how they can encourage as large and strong a charity culture as the UK has.

Charities help people do good things in society, and it means money can be raise and spent in a way that others can trust because it’s accountable. If we tried to set limits on the number of charities, it would mean that some good ideas wouldn’t get off the ground. Some of Britain’s best-known charities were started by a few people coming together round their kitchen table.

Should charities merge?

Charities merge all the time when they think it would be a good way to further their mission. Sometimes, merging is a good idea for charities, sometimes it’s not.

  • On one hand, it can be a time-consuming and legally complex thing to do, and the savings that are made aren’t always as great as you might expect. If the merged charity is still doing all the things the two charities were previously doing, there may be little room for savings to be made. While there are thousands of charities in the UK that do similar things, often geography alone means it doesn’t make sense for them to merge. There would rarely be much to be gained from merging a local charity in Devon with a similar one in Durham, for example.
  • On the other hand, sometimes efficiencies can be made, meaning more time and money can be spent on their mission, and organisations can be strengthened by coming together, gaining expertise and experience from one another.

Around 2,000 charities have merged over the last ten years, which suggests that charities are ready and willing to merge when they think there’s potential to be more efficient or to make a bigger difference.