News : Call Centres Carried on ‘Bullying' Donors Because Not Enough of Them Complained
London, UK, Sept 8, 2015 -- The heads of some of Britain’s charities have apologised for intrusive and overly aggressive telephone fund-raising tactics – but suggested that the public are partly to blame for failing to complain enough.
Chief executives of the NSPCC, RSPCA, Save the Children and Oxfam lined up before MPs to accept the blame for practices by fund-raising agencies acting on their behalf and pledged to overhaul practices.
But MPs in the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee was told that charity trustees had failed to pay more attention because the level of complaints had not been at an "unacceptable level" – despite more than 52,000 people a year complaining about fund-raising tactics.
The charities were now looking at whether voluntary organisations that bully donors into giving money should be banned from making cold calls from contact centres or using "chuggers" to raise money from passers by in the streets.
Justin Forsyth, the charity’s chief executive, said fund raising bans were better than fining "repeat offender" charities which break the fund raising codes of conduct.
Mr Forysth also said large charities could look at setting up a charity-run call centre to cut down on the harassing of donors to give cash.
MPs told them that a series of scandals and an undercover investigation by the Daily Mail left some of the UK’s best known and widely respected charities looking like they treated their supporters like "cash machines" while the system of regulating fund-raising was condemned as being like a "dog’s breakfast".
Mr Forsyth admitted revelations about the bullying of pensioners to raise money had been a"wake up call" for major charities.
Cheryl Gillan, a former Conservative cabinet minister, accused them of trying to "insulate yourself form the distasteful job of raising the money".
Bernard Jenkin MP, the committee's chairman, told them they should be "more like Marks & Spencer and not double glazing salesmen
The chief executives insisted they took full responsibility over the allegations - which include vulnerable people being targeted for donations and others being pestered despite having signalled they did not wish to be contacted - because their monitoring systems had failed to detect public disquiet.
Mr Forsyth issued an apology to the public over charity fundraising tactics adding: "We thought, but we were wrong, that the standards and the contracts we agreed with these agencies and the measures we put into place, whether it was listening to calls or mystery shopping - where you go and send your own staff to listen or on the street to go and check – didn’t work.
"The standards we had may have been strong but they weren’t enforced in practice …we were looking but not hard enough."
But several of the charities added that they had failed to realise there was a problem because of what they saw as a relatively small number of complaints.
Last year there were almost 52,400 official complaints about charity fund-raising tactics in the UK, according to the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) – one of several overlapping voluntary regulators. Almost a third – or 16,500 – related to junk mail with just over 8,000 concerning telephone marketing tactics.
Mark Goldring, of Oxfam, said the charity had about one complaint for every 1,600 calls.
"In addition to our trustees setting our overall principles and policy, they receive regularly an accountability report which includes a description of all complaints received but complaints weren’t at an unacceptable level," he said.
"The issue therefore wasn’t picked up by trustees for the reason … that we were missing too much of the public concern at a management level."
Mr Forsyth said Save The Children had seen a 42 per cent fall in complaints last year. There is obviously a problem here and our system didn’t pick it up and also the public didn’t complain about it so we have to look at what went wrong here and I think we have to accept that," he said.
"That’s why we have suspended all of our telemarketing agencies and are re-looking at contracts and standards … what we did have in place wasn’t enough."
Peter Wanless of the NSPCC added: "I think that there has been an imbalance between the desire to raise money and the importance of valuing the relationship with the donor, either potential or actual."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Thursday, September 10, 2015