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  • Overview

    A focussed media attention on the fundraising practices of charities has encouraged the Government to look into inserting amendments to the Charities Bill to protect vulnerable people from aggressive fundraising tactics.

    The death of poppy seller Olive Cooke, 92, in May has focussed media attention on the fundraising practices of charities.  Mrs Cooke was receiving hundreds of letters and phone calls from a variety of charities in the period leading to her death.  Whilst Mrs Cooke’s family do not think that the charities were to blame for her death, the Government is now looking to insert amendments to the Charities Bill to protect vulnerable people from aggressive fundraising tactics.  

    Charity fund-raising is primarily a self-regulating activity.  The Fundraising Standards Board requires its 1,900 voluntary members to comply with the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Practice (the Code) which sets out legal and best practice standards on a range of fundraising activities as well as with the requirements of other regulatory bodies (such as the Information Commissioner).  A number of large charities have supported the Government’s move which comes during a period of industry change to fundraising regulations designed to protect donors. 

    Recent changes to the Code include: 
    •    door-to-door fundraisers being required to observe ‘no cold-calling’ stickers; 
    •    charities taking responsibility for ensuring that telephone fundraising agencies comply with the terms of the Telephone Preference Service; and 
    •    preventing charities from accepting donations from people who do not have the mental capacity to make them.

    In addition, whilst a number of the provisions of the Code previously recommended charities ‘ought to’ or ‘ought not to’ take certain actions, many of these recommendations have been strengthened so that members now ‘must’ or ‘must not’ take certain actions (the provisions relating to mental capacity being a good example). These changes might result in the loss of some donations but they highlight the priority being placed on maintaining the reputation of the charity sector.  

    Further details of the amendments to the Charities Bill are expected later this year.  Charities should anticipate tighter legal regulations, which might restrict certain fundraising activities.  Amendments might highlight data protection issues which could stop charities and agencies from sharing personal information – as appeared to happen in Olive Cooke’s case.  There might also be greater regulation relating to how charities sub-contract with professional fundraising agencies, as the methods of some of these agencies have been heavily criticised.  For example, going forward agreements between a charity and a sub-contractor agency will need to set out how vulnerable people will be protected from aggressive fundraising tactics. 

    For now the charity sector will remain self-regulating, but looking further ahead should compliance with the Code become compulsory for all charities? The challenge will be to balance the sector’s need for donations, whilst protecting donors from fundraising which is not respectful. 

    Harriet Serpis, a solicitor in the corporate & commercial team at Thomson Snell and Passmore and also a member of the charity sector team. 

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