Charities and subcontractors breached fundraising code, finds regulator

03 Jun 2024 News

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The Fundraising Regulator has criticised two charities and their subcontracted agencies after investigating complaints about correspondence with potentially vulnerable members of the public. 

Its investigation into SOS Children’s Villages UK and agency Zen Fundraising Ltd found both breached its code of practice when a fundraiser continued to speak to an autistic member of the public, despite the person indicating that they did not want to engage. 

Fundraisers were also recorded laughing at an offensive remark made by a passer-by, which breached the code’s requirement of politeness.

The regulator also found that Breast Cancer Now and its contracted fundraising agency APPCO UK had breached its code, with the latter taking donations from a vulnerable individual “they had good reason to believe lacked capacity”. 

Charity updating its fundraising training

Both SOS Children’s Villages and Zen Fundraising accepted the findings of the investigation, which ruled that neither acted in a discriminatory manner. 

A spokesperson for the charity told Civil Society it takes adherence to the regulator’s code “very seriously” and that it has implemented recommendations from it such as updating its training to ensure fundraisers can better identify and take the needs of vulnerable individuals into account. 

“We have stringent contracts in place to ensure agencies contracted to undertake fundraising on our behalf abide by the Code of Fundraising Practice, and we undertake thorough training of all fundraisers and monitoring of performance, including spot checks and shadowing visits.”

Breast Cancer Now reviews practices

The regulator found Breast Cancer Now breached its code by failing to ensure its subcontractor complied with it.

Both the charity and APPCO UK accepted the findings of the investigation. 

A spokesperson from Breast Cancer Now told Civil Society: “The safety and wellbeing of everyone engaged by our fundraisers is our top priority, and we take any complaints made extremely seriously.

“We accept the recommendations in the Fundraising Regulator’s report regarding this complaint and have conducted a thorough review of our face-to-face fundraising practices to ensure all agency fundraisers working on our behalf fully adhere to our high standards and follow the code of conduct at all times.”

APPCO UK has also worked with GOSH Charity this year, which recently reported itself to regulators over pressure-selling allegations.

Gerald Oppenheim, chief executive of the Fundraising Regulator, said: “Charities and fundraising agencies should take careful note of our findings in these investigations. 

“Fundraisers must be trained to recognise when they might be interacting with a potentially vulnerable individual, and behave accordingly.”

The Fundraising Regulator said it is also separately investigating SOS Children’s Villages and the National Deaf Children’s Society following allegations around fundraising practices in a WalesOnline report last year.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify that a fundraiser from Zen Fundraising did not pressure a member of the public into donating and that this investigation was separate to allegations reported last year by WalesOnline.

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