Charities reviewing processes after reports that fundraisers ‘tricked’ donors

07 Aug 2023 News

By Halfpoint/Adobe

Two charities have opened investigations after an undercover reporter found that contracted fundraisers pressured people to make donations.

Last week, WalesOnline revealed that workers at direct sales firm Vantage and Solution “tricked” people in doorstep pitches to donate to SOS Children’s Villages UK and the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS).

SOS Children’s Villages UK originally contracted Zen Fundraising to carry out the work in Cardiff, with the latter sub-contracting the Hub Global. The Hub Global then sub-sub-contracted the work to Vantage and Solution, according to WalesOnline’s article.

WalesOnline reported that the involved fundraisers employed pressure-selling tactics and lied to get people to sign up for charity donations.

‘Series of lies told on doorsteps’

Conor Gogarty, who conducted the investigation, said that he “witnessed a series of lies told on doorsteps to get elderly people to sign up to direct debits to charities”. 

“One pensioner had to say no four times before a sales rep stopped persisting. There was also an attempt to sign up a woman who was clearly confused,” he posted on social media.

Gogarty said that he was told by an employee at Vantage and Solution’s office to “trick” people “into saying yes” and “expand greed” in them but never received any training on fundraising regulations or identifying vulnerable individuals.

‘These practices don’t align with our values and work’

Sarah Bradford, director of communications and brand at SOS Children’s Villages UK, told Civil Society: “This kind of behaviour, this working culture and these types of practices absolutely do not align with our values or the way we work. We sincerely apologise for any distress caused to individuals as a result of the practices and behaviours used by any agencies whose staff are representing SOS Children’s Villages UK.

“We have strict contractual requirements and processes in place for agencies undertaking this kind of fundraising work on our behalf, in this case Zen Fundraising. We also ensure agencies have measures in place to check that standards are being upheld. This includes training and compliance processes; on-going coaching; daily monitoring; welcome call checks; shadowing of teams and ‘mystery shopping’.”

Bradford said that the practices go against the contractual agreements the charity had with Zen Fundraising, “who are equally appalled by what they have seen, and those that Zen Fundraising had with the Hub who they subcontracted”.

“These obligations include providing comprehensive training to all fundraisers before starting on a campaign, upholding the Fundraising Code of Practice, and carrying out thorough quality control procedures. Zen Fundraising commits to paying the National Living Wage, aims to create a positive working culture and focuses on inspiring potential donors, rather than using hard sell techniques,” she added.

‘We’ve begun a thorough investigation’

Bradford added that since seeing Gogarty’s footage, the charity has been in touch with the relevant regulatory bodies and “begun a thorough investigation into how this could have occurred”.

“This includes checking all paperwork and processes, as well as training records and materials, for fundraisers working on this campaign. As a priority, we have also begun looking into all donations received through this campaign in Cardiff. This includes checking the welcome calls Zen Fundraising made with everyone who signed up to give a donation as part of this campaign, to ensure supporters were clear and happy about what they were signing up for. So far, no concerns have been identified, however where there is any evidence that donations are obtained via deception, we will return these in line with the Fundraising Code of Practice. 

“We are not currently conducting, or planning to conduct, any similar fundraising activity. However, in light of these investigations we will review the contractual agreements, processes, checks and relationships we have in place with regards to this type of fundraising for any future campaigns. We are committed to meeting the high standards of fundraising practice set by UK regulators and in alignment with our own values.” 

NDCS: ‘We’re deeply concerned and will take necessary steps’

Gogarty said that Vantage and Solution’s account manager taught him and the other workers how to pitch for donations to NDCS, with the script asking “if the person answering the door ‘agrees’ with a campaign to help deaf children learn sign language”.

“The manager explains you would have to be ‘a bit weird’ to say no, so the question serves as a ‘trick question’ to get people on ‘the yes train’.”

Mike Wade, chief revenue officer at NDCS, told Civil Society: “We demand extremely high standards from the agencies we work with to fundraise and are deeply concerned to hear of any experience where our required safeguards and quality controls are not being met. We no longer work with the agency in question and do not condone the behaviours highlighted. 

“The practices shown in the undercover footage from WalesOnline are completely unacceptable and clearly raise concerns. We are conducting a comprehensive compliance audit to ensure that the agencies we work with are following the contractual obligations we insist upon as a matter of urgency. 

“We will take all necessary steps to ensure that our supporters and anyone fundraising on our behalf are treated with the utmost respect.”

Fundraising Regulator: ‘We’re assessing the information provided’

A spokesperson from the Fundraising Regulator said that it has received information, including video evidence, from WalesOnline, which it is “currently assessing”. 

“We can confirm that we are in contact with the two charities involved, the National Deaf Children’s Society and SOS Children’s Villages.

“It’s vital that third party fundraising organisations adhere to the Code of Fundraising Practice, and particularly to its four key principles – that fundraising must be legal, open, honest, and respectful. Charities must ensure that not only they abide by the code, but also must have processes in place to ensure any third-party fundraisers they work with keep to the code. We would always advise trustees to work with third-party organisations which are themselves registered with the Fundraising Regulator.”

Civil Society was unable to contact Zen Fundraising, the Hub Global and Vantage Solutions.

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