Street fundraising company Tag has pulled together a new training regime for face-to-face fundraisers after a Sunday Telegraph exposé found a campaign the company ran for Marie Curie Cancer Care breached numerous rules and regulations.
The Fundraising Standards Board and Marie Curie have both launched investigations into the training and behaviour of fundraisers involved in the campaign that encouraged donors to sign up to a small text donation, which was then followed up with a direct debit conversion call by Tag’s sister company, Listen.
Numerous instances of poor practice were highlighted in the Sunday paper’s report, including street fundraisers not making disclosure statements to donors, sending text donations from their own phones, deliberately confusing passers-by in order to engage in conversation and trainers telling trainees not to accept a ‘no’ response. Several Tag staff have been disciplined following contact from the newspaper.
The report of poor practice comes less than a week after the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA) itself revealed that monitoring has found a downward trend in standards in street fundraising. In contrast, last year was the best year for street fundraising recruitment for nearly a decade.
Nick Henry, head of standards and allocations at the PFRA, said that spot checks of Tag fundraising previous to the Sunday report had brought up issues, which the PFRA had brought up with the company. Following that Tag invited the PFRA to speak to its team leaders about best practice.
Henry said the breaches recorded by the Sunday Telegraph are "extremely serious". "It is not acceptable to follow people. It is not acceptable to deliberately confuse people. It is not acceptable to continue with engagements once people have said they do not wish it to continue," he said.
Strong initial trial results for Marie Curie
Marie Curie has completed the one-off trial and while initial results are still being reviewed, a spokeswoman for the charity confirmed to civilsociety.co.uk the campaign performed well in terms of return on investment in the trial period.
She said: "Initial results from the trial were positive and showed a low attrition rate and higher than expected average gift. This suggests that the five-year ROI would be at least 2.5-1, which compares favourably with other ways of recruiting committed givers.
"As well as looking at the financial return from a test campaign we also look at the impact, positive or negative, on the charity’s brand.”
The campaign was reported by the Sunday Telegraph to have cost the charity £367,000.
Tag new training regime
Tag released a statement this morning reporting that its senior managers had worked through the weekend to devise a new training system to counter the problems which were brought up in the newspaper investigation.
New recruits will have to sign up to a five-point compliance document before they are allowed out onto the streets. The document outlines fundraisers’ responsibility to make disclosure statements, clarifies acceptable ‘stopping techniques’ and confirms that they have understood the PFRA rules.
While ‘prospecting’ – stopping people on the street to sign up to hear from a charity without an immediate financial commitment – does not require fundraisers make disclosure statements, Ian MacQuillin, head of communications at the PFRA, said there needs to be more clarity about the requirement for fundraisers soliciting SMS donations on the street to make the statement about the costs involved in fundraising. “The confusion has to be cleared up,” he said.
The PRFA will be asked to approve Tag’s new training regime which will also see new staff spend longer in office-based training which will give greater prominence to the PFRA rules.
Managing director of Tag, Tony Chambralides, said: “We are passionate believers in the value of face-to-face fundraising, and understand that the public must have confidence that the rules are strictly adhered to if the integrity of this method of raising money is to be maintained.
“While we are certain these were isolated incidents we are very disappointed at the paper’s disclosures and immediately realised that firm action had to be taken.”
Tag did not wish to comment on current discussions with its other charity clients in the wake, and lead up, to the Sunday report.
FRSB and charity investigations
Both the FRSB and Marie Curie have announced investigations. The charity began its investigation last week, and has no specific timetable for completion.
Fabian French, director of fundraising at Marie Curie, said the charity welcomed the newspaper investigation, but was disappointed by its findings. “We take this extremely seriously,” he said.
The FRSB, meanwhile, warned that such practices as reported by the Sunday Telegraph could erode public trust and confidence in fundraising.
“Fundraising agencies must maintain the highest standards at all times, protecting and building on brands and reputations of the charity clients they work with,” said chief executive Alistair McLean.
The Institute of Fundraising said it is awaiting the outcome of the two investigations. Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Institute, said: “If the reports are true they show completely unacceptable behaviour outside the Institute’s Code of Fundraising Practice, and which the Institute of Fundraising would wholeheartedly condemn.”