Blind Veterans UK and NDCS breached fundraising code, finds regulator

11 Mar 2020 News

Blind Veterans UK and the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) have breached the fundraising code of practice, investigations by the Fundraising Regulator have found.

The regulator published four summaries of investigations today, looking at complaints that organisations were unable to solve themselves.

The two other investigations involved charities Macmillan Cancer Support and Coping with Cancer North East. Those investigations found that the charities did not breach the code of practice.

The Fundraising Regulator publishes summaries of its investigations every quarter. 

NDCS failed to respond appropriately to a complaint

NDCS was investigated in relation to a door-to-door fundraising complaint. A member of the public complained to the charity about the behaviour of a fundraiser, who was employed by a third-party agency.

Due to “conflicting evidence”, the investigation was unable to determine whether the agency had breached the code. However, it found that the charity initially failed to properly handle the complaint, by not providing the member of the public with information on how to escalate it should they wish to, and by not properly communicating them the result of its internal investigation. 

The investigation also concluded that “the complaint did not arise as the result of the charity failing to properly monitor its agency”.

Mike Wade, director of fundraising and communications at NDCS, said: “We strive to maintain the highest possible standards in our fundraising. On this occasion we made a mistake, for which I fully apologise. 

“We have worked with the Fundraising Regulator to identify and implement actions to help make sure this doesn’t happen again. Our work to break down the barriers deaf children face each and every day depends on the continued generosity of the public and we are incredibly grateful for their continued support.”

Blind Veterans UK breach due to ‘human error’

According to the investigation summary report, in 2017 a member of the public asked Blind Veterans UK to stop contacting one of their relatives, who was showing signs of memory loss.

Due to a member of staff’s oversight, the request was not fully acted on and the charity repeatedly contacted the person over the next two years. The individual then made a formal complaint, which resulted in their relative's data being effectively taken off the records.

The regulator found that this was a breach of the code, but also acknowledged that it was caused by human error.

The investigation’s summary concludes: “We therefore found that Blind Veterans UK had breached two areas of the code in relation to managing data and requests to stop direct marketing.

“We accept the charity’s view that the failure to stop direct marketing was down to human error and there is no evidence to suggest it was a deliberate action to exploit a vulnerable donor. We did not find the charity breached a section of the code which related to people in vulnerable circumstances.”

Jackie Harbor, director of fundraising at Blind Veterans UK, said: “As the Fundraising Regulator has recognised, we accept full liability for this error in relation to complaints handling and would like to apologise to all those affected. 

“Although recognised as being due to human error we have still taken action to improve our procedures to best ensure this does not happen again.

“We have informed the Fundraising Regulator that we have acted to remove those who request it from our marketing activities within 21 days. We will continue to monitor this target to ensure it is met and will also work to improve it in the future.

“We have also completed our Vulnerable Persons Policy.” 

Macmillan investigated over TV ad

The Fundraising Regulator also investigated a complaint from a member of the public who believed one of the Macmillan Cancer Support’s TV ads was misleading. 

The ad said: “If you ever need us, we support you physically, financially and emotionally. Whatever cancer throws your way, we’re right there with you.”

The member of the public argued that this was not true and was critical of the support provided by the charity. The regulator found that “information on the different types of support offered by the charity is clearly available on the website” and that the charity did not breach the code.

The same member of the public had already made similar complaints to both the Fundraising Regulator and the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA’s) in the past, but neither was upheld.

Coping with Cancer North East stopped working with its collection bag agency

Coping with Cancer North East was investigated about a collection bag that was dropped to a “restricted address” by its agency Unicare Limited.

The investigation found the agency in breach of the code, both because of the bag drop and because its responses to the initial complaint contained “mistakes and omissions”.

The charity was not found in breach of the code.

The investigation’s summary says: “Once the charity was aware of the complainant’s final complaint, it should have ensured that the agency provided them with a timely final response.

“However, we could see the efforts the charity had made to seek the appropriate assurance from the agency in relation to compliance with the code. We also acknowledge how seriously it was taking its responsibilities in this regard, ultimately deciding to terminate its contract with the agency.”

The Fundraising Regulator started publishing its investigation summaries last September, and the next round is expected in June.

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