No fundraising complaints? No kidding!

No fundraising complaints? No kidding!

No fundraising complaints? No kidding!3

Fundraising | Celina Ribeiro | 6 Jun 2012

The annual FRSB fundraising complaints data is out and it looks good. A little too good for some charities, says Celina Ribeiro.

So the annual Fundraising Standards Board is out.

They stats are looking good, aren’t they? At first sight the numbers seem rather large. More than 30,000 complaints logged by charities last year. That’s a fair chunk of complaints. But don’t panic. When considered against an estimated 9.6bn fundraising contacts with members of the public, the complaint numbers are pretty miniscule. Phew. Nice job, fundraisers.

Nice job in particular to the two-thirds of Fundraising Standards Board members which reported not receiving a single complaint in all of 2011. You must tell the rest of the sector your secret. Go on! I’m sure all the other charities which have logged and reported their hundreds of complaints would love to know how you do it.

Is it possible that 67 per cent of FRSB members did not get one single phone call alerting them to the fact that their direct mail addressed a Mr not a Mrs? That none of these charities received a solitary, hand-written letter from someone with way too much time on their hands asking why it is your charity has mailed them three times already this year? Perhaps it is. But what is more likely is that many charities are not recording complaints. Not out of a desire to fudge the numbers, I’m sure, but rather because all said, recording complaints is probably just a bit of an administrative burden too far for some.

The FRSB is pretty unequivocal about what constitutes a complaint. It is “an expression of dissatisfaction whether justified or not”. So that even means every time someone gets in touch to ask to be removed from a mailing list (an example lifted straight from the FRSB website). That means the trivial and the cranks as well as the genuine stuff.

Let’s be clear. Is there a massive problem with the quality or tone of fundraising in this country? No. It’s a pretty clean industry. But given that those who complain represent only the tip of the iceberg of the dissatisfied, is it not rather critical that all charities make an effort to measure that iceberg tip?

Charities must not be afraid of complaints or shy away from criticism. It does not mean you’re failing. It means that maybe you’re not perfect. And it means you can get better, which all charities – as good as they are – have a duty to do.


Ian Care
7 Jun 2012

Thinking of that reply from the public as a "point to improve" (rather than just logging it as a statistic of a complaint) will drive to better fundraising, delivering benefits to the charity as people are happier about what you are doing.
It also means we are doing something useful with the data (information) and not just an admin task. Think of this in terms of money (time) spent - it should provide a benefit to the charity and not a burden.

Alistair Heron
7 Jun 2012

Excellent points persuasively made Celina. However, although 'rules are rules' (and if you're an FRSB member you must adhere to what you've signed up to), it seems ludicrous that a request to be removed from a mailing list should neccesarily be treated as a complaint. So long as a charity obtains details by legitimate means it is doing nothing wrong in writing to a potential donor, just as the donor is doing nothing wrong in asking the charity to desist. Surely a 'complaint' only arises if the charity fails to honour that request thus breaking the DPA and established best practice for fundraisers.

Having worked for a number of medium to large charities (local, national and international), I too find it impossible to believe that 67% of FRSB members have not been notified of a single complaint about their fundraising practice. However, the next question that should be asked (of the FRSB) is 'when is a complaint not a complaint'?

Adrian Beney
More Partnership
6 Jun 2012

I'm not a fan of the FRSB, ever I since saw the charges for a supplier to join. Who does the FRSB think pays our bills? So who would we have to pass the cost on to? Yes, the charities we serve.

But here I will defend the FRSB a little, and I don't read their advice the same way that you do: I think they are saying that any contact has the potential to turn into a complaint if not handled correctly.

While I understand the need to self regulate, for fear of much worse, what we do not need is a bureaucratic process of recording everything in case it turns into a complaint. I make gifts to charity so that my money, and those charities, can do good in the world, not so it can be used to count complaints. We need a light touch regulatory regime that gives donors recourse to an independent body if things go badly wrong. I suspect the FRSB is treading the line between overbearing and pointless quite well!


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