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Charity marketeers trying to prevent Government regulation

6th September 2015

I guess I should say something about the Institute of Fundraising's letter in today's Sunday Times.

The first thing to say is that the Institute of Fundraising is a self-regulatory body that has overseen the introduction of hard-selling in the charitable sector while warding off Government regulation. Its most symbolic achievement is the army of chuggers that's harassing people everywhere. No longer do we have volunteers going out with a bucket to collect money for a cause they support – we now have pretty, hip & trendy, professional sales boys and a girls who will sell any cause. Oh, and we now also got extremely well-paid charity CEOs and marketing executives.

So far the Institute of Fundraising and its friends at the Fundraising Standards Board have routinely brushed aside complaints about charity fundraising. Over the years there have been a few (informal) adjudications, most of which have been decided in favour of the charity. They ruled, for instance, that it's fine for charities to ignore No Cold Calling signs and that it's okay to keep donations made by vulnerable people, provided that the charity didn't know the person was vulnerable when the money was taken (and no, charities don't have to check whether or not a person they target via cold calling is vulnerable).

The reason why the Institute of Fundraising (and the Fundraising Standard Board) are now suddenly taking complaints seriously is because the media has reported on two incidents. In May, there was a public outcry about charities excessively targeting Olive Cooke and just last week the Daily Fascist reported on how charities are trading donor's personal details. More importantly, the bad press has woken up the Government, which is currently looking into regulating charity fundraising.

The letter in today's Sunday Times, then, aims to convince the Government and the public that the charity sector isn't as cold-hearted as its marketing techniques suggest. I'm not quite sure the letter has achieved that. It fails to specify what problems they're trying to solve – it merely states that there have been times where [sic] fundraising practice has failed to live up to […] high standards – and it doesn't contain much information about how the unspecified issues will be rectified. It seems they'll be making some minor (not yet specified) changes to the self-regulatory code of practice and that the code will then be overseen by yet another self-regulatory body.

Perfume on a turd

Rather than spraying perfume on a turd the Institute of Fundraising could make some real changes. Why not, for instance, introduce a 'cooling off' period for donations, so that people who regret donating money after being 'cold called' can get their money back within, say, two weeks? Why not require charities to always tell people they target how they got hold of their personal details and how future mail-outs can be prevented? Why not replace all marketing opt-out boxes with opt-in boxes (which should be unticked by default)? Why not ban chuggers?

The reason nothing is going to change is precisely what caused the mess we're in: self-regulation. Any stricter rules would only apply to those charities that have chosen to be a member of the self-regulatory framework – which is a small minority anyway. Stricter rules will mean it's likely that charities that are a member of the Institute of Fundraising will cancel their membership, so that they can continue business as usual. It's precisely what happened with the Door-Drop Preference Service – the 'super duper' opt-out scheme for unaddressed junk mail was scrapped because the Direct Marketing Association feared its member might be upset and leave.

And, you know, very soon the Government, media and public will have lost interest in the issue (until it pops again next year).

Last updated: 
6th September 2015

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