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FRSB rules that Diabetes UK campaign 'misled the public'

FRSB rules that Diabetes UK campaign 'misled the public'
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FRSB rules that Diabetes UK campaign 'misled the public'4

Fundraising | Hugh Radojev | 13 Nov 2015

The Fundraising Standards Board has upheld a complaint made against Diabetes UK, finding that the charity, and its agency Listen, breached the Code of Fundraising Practice. 

In an adjudication report published today, the FRSB has ruled that Diabetes UK pedometer fundraising campaign breached four clauses of the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice and that fundraising agency Listen subsequently breached one clause of the code.

The adjudication stems from a complaint made to the FRSB on 17 January. The complaint was made after Diabetes UK launched a campaign designed to raise awareness of diabetes, by using TV, radio and print advertising to invite members of the public to text a number and receive “your free diabetes guide and pedometer”.

All respondents to this campaign subsequently received a phone call on behalf of the charity which not only asked for their address to send the guide and pedometer but also included a request for a £10 a month donation.

Andrew Hind, chair of the FRSB, said: “Diabetes UK’s pedometer campaign was not solely designed to assist the public by raising awareness of diabetes. It also had a clear motive to solicit contact details for a subsequent fundraising approach to those who responded. As a result, we have concluded that the charity’s campaign misled the public.”

According to the adjudication report opt-out statements in the campaign materials were “both inconspicuous and inadequate” and the bounce back text received after expressing interest in the campaign materials did not offer an opportunity to opt out of the fundraising call.

The complainant told the FRSB that when she was contacted by Listen she had only expected a call asking for her postal address. She also felt the telephone fundraiser “put her under pressure to donate and had been patronising when she stated she couldn’t donate” due to health reasons.

The complainant subsequently informed the FRSB that it was “completely deceiving of them [Diabetes UK] to use my details in the way they did and to cold call me”.

FRSB findings and expectations

The FRSB adjudicated this at a stage three complaint on 16 September and subsequently found that the campaign misled the “more than 25,000” respondents as to how their personal data would be used, that the campaign had a “clear ulterior motive to solicit contact details” and that it had not “secured proper consents from respondents” before making fundraising calls to them.  

As a result of this finding, the FRSB has said it “expects Diabetes UK to take a number of actions with immediate effect, as follows:

  • Includes clear and conspicuous opportunities for respondents to opt out of any future contact from the charity in respect of any future campaigns it initiates;
  • Issue an apology to the complainant for misleading her;
  • Checks all telephone numbers selected for telemarketing against the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) register for all future campaigns.

The FRSB also expects Listen Ltd to ensure that:

  • Its charity clients always obtain the proper consents from the public to receive a fundraising call before making those calls.
  • Its fundraisers only use wording approved by its charity clients and treat the public with respect at all times

The FRSB did not uphold the complaint of 'undue pressure' that was made against Listen Ltd. 

Diabetes UK accepts the ruling

A spokesman for Diabetes UK said: “We accept the FRSB’s ruling that, on this occasion, we made a mistake and should have been clearer that as well as sending people a pedometer and guide to diabetes, we also planned to ask them to become a financial supporter, as well as given them the chance to opt out.

“We have already apologised to the person who complained and we have learned from this. We will be making sure we are crystal clear in all our future fundraising work about whether people are likely to be asked for a donation.”

A spokesman for Listen Ltd said: “We are pleased that the complaint relating to an allegation of undue pressure being applied during a call has not been upheld.

The FRSB did not inform us of the second allegation regarding consents, and we did not therefore have any opportunity to respond before an adjudication was reached. Nevertheless, we have noted the regulator’s recommendations.”

A spokesman for the IoF said: "The Institute of Fundraising acknowledges the clear ruling today from the FRSB that the Diabetes UK campaign breached the rules laid out in the IoF’s Code of Fundraising Practice.

"When our members are found to be in breach the Code it is right that they are held to account.  This will continue under the strengthened system of self-regulation coming into effect next year .  

"We welcome Diabetes UK’s acceptance that the campaign did breach aspects of the code, their apology to those affected, and their reassurance that they will make changes to future campaigns in response to this ruling." 

Barry Gower
14 Nov 2015

I am not an expert on sharp practice, although I can appreciate that fundraisers, both internal and external, have goals and objectives which may be different from those of the donors.

I am however, an expert 'diabetic', having been one for over 55 years, and am deeply saddened, frustrated and indeed annoyed that resources, and associated funds that are donated to DUK and desperately needed to be put towards eradicating diabetes should be utilised in this way. Whilst I am not familiar with all the facts of the case, it would appear that the ruling is based on a single complainant out of “more than 25,000” respondents. I get more calls on PPI, insurance claims and 'Microsoft' agents than that!

Sure, maybe DUK and Listen Ltd need to focus more on this, and I am sure that the new CEO will ensure just that. But taking Adrian Sargeant's point. let's bring back a sense of proportion and sensibility to all of this.

Patrick Taylor
13 Nov 2015

Indeed what most people would judge to be sharp practice. I am in amazement that it was not seen as that from the outset. Looking at the Charity's Board they do not look like the kind of people to sign this off.

The CEO is new in September so cannot be to blame.

Regarding the transcript - you would be amazed as to how meanings can change depending on the delivery. Perhaps the original recording needed to be considered - or was that unavailable?

Ian MacQuillin
13 Nov 2015

I think it's only fair to point out that the allegation that the fundraiser had put the complainant under pressure to donate was not upheld by the FRSB, because having reviewed a transcript of the call the board concluded this didn't breach the 'reasonable persuasion' rule in place at the time, even though this isn't mentioned in the summary report.

Adrian Sargeant
Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy
13 Nov 2015
Response to [Ian MacQuillin]

There is something deeply troubling about this ruling. All that seems to have happened here is that an individual member of the public contacted a charity to receive requested information, parted with their contact information and was then asked if she would also care to make a gift to support the work of the charity.

How can that possibly be 'sharp practice?' Why can't charities ask individuals who have expressed an interest in their cause if they might also consider a donation?

It is a particularly odd ruling in that the ask was obviously made in an inoffensive and non-pressurising way - so what exactly is the problem?

We seem to have lost all sense of proportion following the events of the Summer.

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