A sample of 56 large fundraising charities experienced significant increases in complaints about online and corporate fundraising last year, according to the Fundraising Regulator.
Overall complaints for the year to 31 March 2021 were down slightly on the previous year, with many face-to-face and in-person methods paused during lockdowns.
The Fundraising Regulator’s Annual Complaints Report 2020-21, published yesterday, analyses both complaints made directly to the regulator and response to a survey completed by the largest fundraising charities.
For the sample of large charities, the total number of complaints fell from 18,569 in 2019-20 to 17,800 in 2020-21.
Within this, complaints about online fundraising tripled to 5,836, making it the most complained about method. There were also more complaints about corporate fundraising, increasing from 108 to 2,504.
There were fewer complaints about activities like challenge events (681 in 2020-21 vs 2,063 in 2019-20) and door-to-door fundraising (752 in 2020-21 vs 2,413 in 2019-20).
Gerald Oppenheim, chief executive of the Fundraising Regulator, said: “It is encouraging to see that the overall number of complaints about charitable fundraising continued to decline during the pandemic, which shows that good fundraising practice has prevailed at a time of unprecedented challenges for the sector.
“We will continue to work closely with charities to support them in some of the areas the report has identified – particularly in relation to online fundraising – and make sure both charities and the public are equipped with the tools to fundraise, and donate, safely.”
Complaints about online
The regulator says that the 252% increase in complaints about online fundraising reported by charities reflects adaptations to fundraising during the pandemic.
In fact, it says that when the complaints are set in the context of the amount of activity the number is not so troubling.
The report finds that one in 1,886,192 impressions received a complaint.
Rise in complaints about corporate down to one charity
The Fundraising Regulator said that the reason for the spike in complaints about corporate fundraising is because of one charity’s partnership attracting a lot of complaints.
“This high ratio is not reflective of all large charity fundraising complaints in 2020-21,” the report says. “Nonetheless, this does show that while corporate fundraising is effective because it reaches a wide audience, it does have the ability to generate a lot of complaints if the partnership is not carefully thought through or if concerns come to light about the company involved.”
It advises charities to think carefully before beginning a partnership with businesses and consider the potential reaction from the public.
Complaints made to the regulator
The report also includes analysis of complaints made directly to the Fundraising Regulator during the year.
In 2020-21, the Fundraising Regulator received just over 900 complaints, however just 363 were within its remit.
In 144 cases it directed complainants to the Charity Commission. Others were directed to Action Fraud, HMRC or Citizens Advice.
Around a third of case were made “prematurely”, ie before the complainant had first approached the organisation in question.
Of the complaints that were in its remit, it “closed” most after assessing them. During the year it completed 13 formal investigations. Out of those investigations it found a breach of the Code of Fundraising Practice in most cases.
The most common cause of complaint across all fundraising methods received by the Fundraising Regulator was misleading information.
Charity bags remained the most complained about method, with 105 complaints. The regulator also highlighted an increase in people complaining about lottery fundraising, with it becoming the ninth most complained about method.
“The nature of complaints about lotteries were varied, however several concerns relate to a general dislike of the method. We will continue to track these complaints closely to see if this increase develops into an ongoing trend,” the report says.
In total it received 10 complaints about lotteries.