We will all remember the saying ‘where there’s muck there’s brass’ from our younger days – well I’m sure we’ll all also recognise the sentiment ‘where there’s brass there’s trouble!’ Or that is what it seems like in the charity fundraising world at the moment.
Only recently two of our most respected charities the RSPCA and the British Heart Foundation have been fined £25,000 and £18,000 respectively by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) for breaches in relation to the Data Protection Act. Both charities were accused of ‘secretly screening millions of their donors in order to target them for more money’ – they routinely carried our checks on their wealth and in some cases they tried to work out how much they would leave as a legacy in their wills. What also came to light in this investigation is that the ICO was relatively lenient in applying the fines – saying that they could have been up to ten times more – or £250,000.
These are not isolated cases – earlier in 2016 it came to light that charity fundraisers had been fined more than £165,000 across the last three years for repeated breaches of their own rules in seeking on-street donations from the public. Known as ‘chuggers’ – short for charity muggers – the on-street fundraisers were found to have harassed passers-by, used obstruction in order to engage people in conversation, had failed to fully disclose the cost of fundraising and had sought to solicit donations from children.
And I’m sure that those of you with slightly longer memories will recall the tragic story of Olive Cooke from Bristol who jumped to her death in May 2015 close to the Clifton Suspension Bridge after being pestered by charities for money. At the time of her death, Olive apparently had 27 different direct debits coming from her bank account to charities and received a peak number of 466 begging letters in one single year – although an official report by the Fundraising Standards Board into her case said that this figure was likely to only represent one sixth of the total charity mailings she would have received!
Whilst I’m not denying that many, many charities do exceptionally good work and operate within the letter of the law, these stories do highlight what goes on in real life. But what makes these tales even more cautionary is the fact that the people targeted invariably seem to be the elderly who, charities know, are more likely to give.
But it is the fact that people are harassed that makes the tactics used by the charities hard to stomach – and I’m sure that these tales will make you think twice the next time you are asked to donate to a ‘good cause’.
Do you have experience of this? Have you ever been the target of excessive fundraising attention from a charity? If so please do let me know – write to me at the usual address.
By Andrew Silk