GOSH Charity reports itself to regulators over ‘pressure-selling’ fundraising allegations

23 Feb 2024 News

GOSH Charity logo

Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) Children’s Charity has reported itself to two charity regulators after its subcontracted fundraisers were accused of using “pressure-selling techniques”.

A Times Investigation reports that door-to-door fundraisers for GOSH Charity, employed by face-to-face acquisition company IBA Global, coerced people into signing up for donations.

Last month, GOSH Charity filed a serious incident report to the Charity Commission in relation to the Times’ findings and also reported itself to the Fundraising Regulator.  

GOSH Charity told Civil Society it was “deeply concerned” by the Times’ allegations and had launched a “full independent, external investigation”.

‘Psychological motivators and pre-empt objections’

A Times reporter went undercover as a fundraiser at IBA Global, which GOSH Charity had subcontracted for door-to-door activities, in London and Hertfordshire.

They reported that fundraisers were taught to use “psychological motivators and pre-empt objections on the doorstep”. 

As part of their training, fundraisers were told not to accept one-off donations and “persuade customers to spread the payment monthly by direct debit to enable GOSH to plan its budget”, according to the report.

One senior fundraiser was found to have created the impression that he was deaf to get members of the public to open their doors and told trainees that he could cry on demand, it adds. 

Fundraisers at IBA Global received commission-based payment instead of hourly salaries, the investigation found, which the Code of Fundraising Practice allows but says must not be used unless all other sources of fundraising investment have been explored and exhausted.

‘We’re deeply concerned by these allegations’

Recently filed accounts show that GOSH Charity reported a record total income of £107.7m in the year to March 2023, up from £74.5m the previous year, most of which came through fundraising.

GOSH Charity received 900 fundraising complaints in 2022-23, an increase of 244 complaints on the previous year, most of which were related to its face-to-face fundraising activity, the charity said. 

Its accounts state that the increase is “directly attributable to the fact that we have significantly increased our fundraising activity during the year in line with our new and ambitious fundraising strategy”. 

In 2021, the charity set an “ambitious” target to raise £100m a year by the end of its five-year strategy, a target it hit in May 2023.

In response to the investigation, a GOSH Charity spokesperson said: “GOSH Charity is deeply concerned by these allegations and footage and doesn’t condone any fundraising practices and behaviours that do not comply with the high standards we expect.   

“GOSH Charity is taking this matter extremely seriously and immediately suspended working with IBA Global. We work extensively with agencies to train and support their fundraising staff and require that they fully comply with the Code of Fundraising Practice.”

The charity added that it is now “conducting a full independent, external investigation and will take further appropriate action if any breaches are found”.

“Door-to-door fundraising is one of the most effective ways for us to raise much-needed money and engage with people. Without the generosity of our supporters, we simply couldn’t transform the lives of seriously ill children at the hospital now and in the future.” 

Commission: ‘We’re determining any next steps’

A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “Our guidance is clear that charities should raise money in a considerate and responsible way, mindful that public generosity can never be taken for granted.

“We’re assessing information shared with us by the Times about fundraising activity undertaken on behalf of GOSH Children’s Charity. 

“In line with our guidance, the charity has reported the Times’ findings to us as a serious incident. We’re assessing the matter to determine, what, if any, role there might be for the Commission. We’re working with the Fundraising Regulator to determine any next steps.”

Fundraising Regulator: ‘Vital charities abide by principles of the Code’

The Fundraising Regulator said it was “concerned” by the evidence presented by the Times, which it is now assessing.

“We’re disappointed to see the practices outlined in the investigation, which echo concerns we’re addressing in the market inquiry, opened in October last year,” a spokesperson said. 

“GOSH has followed the right procedure and self-reported to us. We can confirm that we have opened an investigation and will be working with the Charity Commission.

“It’s vital that charities abide by the principles of the Code of Fundraising Practice, in addition to its specific provisions. In particular, charities must ensure that fundraisers working for them or on their behalf do so in a manner that is open, honest, legal, and respectful.

“While reasonable persuasion is permitted, good fundraising rests on these principles, and charities must take care that this does not cross the line into undue pressure or unreasonably persistent behaviour. 

“Face-to-face fundraising methods can be very effective – they allow charities to secure long-term, predictable donations and to raise awareness of their causes. Many members of the public have instituted long-term relationships with charities important to them following a conversation with a face-to-face fundraiser.

“However, charities must take care to ensure that their fundraisers and those that fundraise on their behalf are operating in line with the Code, and that they have appropriate oversight and training.” 

The Fundraising Regulator added that it will publish the findings of its market inquiry in the next few weeks.

IBA Global did not respond to Civil Society’s request for comment.

For more news, interviews, opinion and analysis about charities and the voluntary sector, sign up to receive the free Civil Society daily news bulletin here.


More on