The Information Commissioner is looking into claims that four charities have been cold calling people who had officially opted out of cold calls. The NSPCC, British Red Cross, Oxfam and Macmillan Cancer Support have been accused of using a call centre that contacted people who had signed up with the Telephone Preference Service - which means organisations are not allowed to ring them.
The claims were made by the Daily Mail, which sent an undercover reorder to work for GoGen, a charity fundraising call centre. Among the accusations made in its report included the claim that people with dementia and Alzheimer's were considered suitable people to call - as long as they agreed to speak and could answer basic questions.
It also said that callers were told not to accept excuses from people who didn't want to donate money - and to make three separate requests for money even if people said no.
GoGen denied 'many of the claims' and said it did not "make cold calls of any kind to TPS registered data supplied by third parties generated by lifestyle or profiled survey questionnaires". It agreed to a thorough investigation by the Fundraising Standards Board.
Macmillan said it was looking into the allegations and would take 'robust action' if it found agencies were not acting with the utmost integrity. The NSPCC said it expected the highest standards of behaviour from agencies working for the charity, and added: "Any suggestion of inappropriate activity is deeply worrying and we would want any concerns to be raised with us immediately so that they can be quickly addressed."
The British Red Cross said it would never knowingly ask for donations from someone with Alzheimer's or dementia, and further measures were being put in place to ensure best practice is followed at all times.
The Fundraising Standards Board has seen a spike in complaints about charity fundraising: there were over 52,000 complaints last year. Mailshots asking for money received the most complaints, followed by telephone fundraising which received more than 8,000 complaints.
Some 42% of complaints were related to the frequency of charity communications, while 35% were complaints about approaches to elderly or vulnerable people. One in six of the complaints were from people who did not believe they had given consent for charities to contact them.
It said it wanted people to be given more control over the way charities approach them, and make it easier to opt out of unwanted contact.
The accusations are particularly worrying given that a recent study would seem to show they are taking precisely the wrong approach if they want to maximise donations.
A study for the Science of Philanthropy Initiative experimented by sending fundraising letters to people with a message on the outside of the letter stating that if people gave to the charity, they would never contact them again. When they made their donation they were asked to tick one of three boxes - one saying 'never contact me again', one saying 'only send me limited mailings' and a third saying 'continue to contact me'.
They found that 38% of people who gave money ticked the box to never be contacted again. However, the mailing itself attracted twice the number of contributions that they would usually receive, and meant that even when they took into account the people they could never contact again, the charities made 50% more through this than through a standard donation letter.
It's time for charities to rethink their approach, because more effective campaigns could actually end up raising more money without upsetting anyone into the bargain.
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