The RSPCA has said that it will conduct a full review into its use of supporters' data after the Daily Mail accused the charity of paying “investigators to assess how much money donors might leave in their wills”.
In an article published this morning, the Daily Mail has said that the RSPCA held Samuel Rae - an 87-year-old widower’s personal details and passed them on to a firm which specialised in “legacy prediction".
According to the Mail the RSPCA first obtained Samuel Rae’s personal information in 2005, “when he took out pet insurance”. After Rae’s wife died in 2009, the Mail said the former army colonel made a donation of £3 a month “until further notice” to the RSPCA, which was “his wife’s favourite charity”.
The Mail said that the RSPCA passed Mr Rae’s details on to Prospecting for Gold – a prospect research agency which works exclusively with not-for-profit organisations – four times. PFG then used Rae’s data to “establish a score estimating his wealth and donor potential”.
The charity has said that it “strongly disputes” the Daily Mail’s insinuations that it is “targeting the elderly or vulnerable, or are deceiving our supporters in any way”.
The charity also said: "Legacy predictor modelling is used by many charities and helps the RSPCA understand the make-up of our supporter base. It is not used to determine values of anyone’s legacies to the charity.
“We can assure our supporters that we use their donations effectively. For every £1 the RSPCA spends on fundraising we receive £3 back, which is used to rescue animals in distress.
“As part of our commitment to all of our supporters, we have listened to broad public concerns raised in recent months and have worked closely with the Fundraising Standards Board and the Institute of Fundraising on a review of current practice. We hope the results of this will reassure the public and rebuild their trust with the charitable sector.”
In its most recent UK Civil Society Almanac, NCVO said that legacy fundraising is worth around £2bn a year to the voluntary sector in the UK.
Senior legacy consultant: ‘The Daily Mail has no concept of the benefits to donors of research’
A senior legacy fundraising consultant, who wished not to be named, has slammed the latest article in the Daily Mail, saying the use of the word ‘investigators’ is “ludicrous” and has defended the use of agencies like Prospecting for Gold as widespread in the sector.
Speaking to Civil Society News this morning, he said: "The Daily Mail obviously has no concept of the benefits to donors of research - let alone the benefits to beneficiaries. Every charity is keen to ask for the right sum in the right way by the right method of communication.
“By growing the understanding of the profile of a donor you can ensure that each donor is approached in the right way and ensure they give the amount they want to with enthusiasm and happiness. The word 'investigators' used by the Daily Mail is totally ludicrous. The companies are just using public information to ensure that charities can invest wisely in their fundraising."
Esther Rantzen warns that financial pressure on charities has led to 'ethical constraints' being 'abandoned'
Esther Rantzen has used her column in the Daily Mail to say that “charities are not acting out of any villainous purpose,” but said financial pressure was leading to the abandonment of “old ethical constraints” in fundraising.
Rantzen, broadcaster and founder of elderly support charity Silver Line, said that the unintentional sharing of supporter’s data by charities to telemarketing “hustlers” such as French based company Biotonic is being driven by the “severe financial pressure” many charities find themselves operating under.
“After more than 30 years of involvement with this sector, I am sure most charities are not acting out of any villainous purpose,” said Rantzen. “Compassion and concern are still what motivates most people who work in this sector.
“But what has happened is that they are under such severe financial pressure, and the demand for their services is growing so rapidly, that they have become desperate to raise money by almost any means. As a consequence, some of the old ethical constraints have been abandoned. The realisation that a list of donors can be enormously lucrative has proved too tempting for many charities.”
New data guides
The think tank New Philanthropy Capital has today released two papers to help charities understand and use data for charities, in light of the latest media storm surrounding the use of supporter’s personal information.
The first, Protecting your beneficiaries, protecting your organisation, lists ten ways charities can use the data they have safely. And the second, Understanding statistical significance, explains how charities can use data to highlight the impact of their work.