The Fundraising Standards Board will investigate allegations that poppy seller Olive Cooke committed suicide after being overwhelmed by fundraising requests, it said this morning after receiving a direct appeal from the Prime Minister.
The Institute of Fundraising has also said that it will conduct a review into its code and its guidance.
On Friday morning both bodies issued statements reminding the public that charities who were signed up Code of Fundraising Practice would not contact people who asked to be removed from lists.
David Cameron, who had presented Cooke with a Point of Light award last year for being Britain’s longest serving poppy seller, intervened over the weekend to describe her as “remarkable”.
He said: “I know there is a code that is meant to protect people from feeling pressured by charities and I hope the Fundraising Standards Board will look at whether any more could have been done to prevent this.”
Alistair McLean, chief executive of the FRSB, confirmed that it will investigate the allegations.
“We are deeply saddened by reports that Mrs Cooke felt overwhelmed by charity fundraising requests," he said. "We acknowledge that fundraising is thought to have been one of a number of factors that is said to have caused her some distress in recent months.
"The Fundraising Standards Board will investigate these allegations and has already made contact with Mrs Cooke’s representatives. We are also encouraging the public to speak to charities if they have any concerns or to get in touch with us so that we can address those issues.”
Retired poppy seller Olive Cooke apparently jumped to her death last week. She had previously told a local newspaper that she felt “overwhelmed” by the volume of fundraising appeals she received.
Her daughter has since told the Bristol Post that she does not believe the volume of charity fundraising was the reason her mother took her life.
Institute to review code and guidance
On Friday afternoon the Institute of Fundraising said it will conduct a review into its code and guidance following the death of Olive Cooke.
Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising said in a statement: “Fundraisers know that it is absolutely critical to maintain public trust and confidence in charities, and an important part of this is to fundraise in the right way and to the highest standards.
“The IoF Standards Committee – which sets the rules for fundraising across the UK – will review any learning following Mrs Cooke’s sad death to make sure that our rules and guidance for fundraisers are as robust as they can be.”
Representatives from Fundraising Standards Board, Public Fundraising Regulatory Association and charities will feed in to the review.
This morning an IoF spokesman said: “The FRSB have said that they will be investigating any fundraising concerns relating to the tragic death of Olive Cooke. Following this investigation the IoF will implement a review of any learnings to make sure that our rules and guidance are as robust as they can be.”
Responses from charities
According to newspaper reports, including the Daily Mail, Mirror and Metro, Cooke received letters from the Alzheimer's Society, Save the Children, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and Mind, among others, and spent an afternoon each week sorting through the letters.
Mind has said that does not share data with other charities or anyone else and that it will look into what happened.
In a statement Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “We are saddened by the tragic death of Olive Cooke. Our thoughts are with her friends and family at what must be a difficult time.
We would be very concerned if at any time we have acted inappropriately. We will be looking into what may have happened in this case.”
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home also issued a statement: “Battersea Dogs and Cats Home is deeply sorry to hear about the death of Mrs Olive Cooke and our thoughts go out to her family and friends. Mrs Cooke wasn’t a supporter of our charity and had never given to us, either by direct debit or as a one-off donation. We’ve never contacted Mrs Cooke by phone and our only contact was by mail, asking her to give, to which we received no response. As Mrs Cooke is not a supporter of our charity, we don’t hold any details for her and therefore could not have passed on this information to other charities.
“We didn’t intend to cause distress in our three mailings to Mrs Cooke. Battersea is signed up to the Fundraising Standards Board code of conduct and would never seek to put anybody under pressure.”
Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said: "I am deeply saddened by the news of Olive's tragic death—our thoughts go out to her family at this time.
“I am concerned that she felt harassed by charities. We are taking this issue very seriously and are looking into the details.
"Olive was a long-standing and valued supporter of Amnesty. Her relationship with Amnesty as a supporter and donor began over 20 years ago.
“Our team last telephoned Olive in April. During that call, even though Olive did not say so explicitly, we sensed she would prefer not to be called again.
“We then amended our details immediately, as is standard practice for all of our supporter relations. This was the last and only call we made to Olive in 2015.”
Jon Bodenham, director of fundraising at Alzheimer’s Society, told the Guardian: “We sent a mailing last year asking people to help us in our efforts to tackle dementia. Such mailings are a way of reaching out to people who may be unaware of our work.
“As a responsible fundraiser we adhere to the Institute of Fundraising’s code of practice and apologise to people if our letters reach them at a difficult time. We would urge anyone who does not want to hear from us to let us know so we can remove them from our lists.”
Jane Pleace, global fundraising director, Tearfund, said: "We are very sad to hear of the death of Olive Cooke and send our heartfelt sympathies to her family.
“A member of our staff phoned her once, after she had made a donation, and had a lovely conversation with her. We understood she was elderly and perhaps vulnerable, so we decided not to call her again. Mrs Cooke indicated she was happy to receive our magazine. We never, ever pass on supporter details to third parties, either for sale or for free."
A spokesman at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We are very saddened to hear of the death of Olive Cooke, who was clearly a dedicated and highly respected member of her community, and we pass our condolences to her family.
“We are a member of the FRSB and take great care in respecting the contact preferences of our supporters and their families. If they wish to stop receiving information after they have signed-up we will take them off our contact list.”
Andy Harris, director of fundraising at Breast Cancer Care, said: "We are sorry to hear the tragic news about Olive Cooke. Our thoughts and condolences go out to her family during what must be an incredibly difficult time.
“All of our fundraising complies fully with the Code of Fundraising Practice and we are members of the Fundraising Standards Board. At any point people can unsubscribe from correspondence with us.”