Regulator pledges action following surge in online fundraising complaints

The Fundraising Regulator is to review how charities are supported in their online fundraising, following a surge in complaints around the sector’s use of social media, websites and digital advertising to generate income.

Complaints to charities about their online fundraising more than tripled during the Covid-19 health crisis, according to latest figures from the regulator.

From April 2020 to the end of the March this year, 56 charities reported receiving 5,836 complaints about their online fundraising. This is up 252% on the previous year.

This is the first time in four years that online fundraising has been the most complained about method of fundraising reported by charities.

Public complaints to the regulator about online fundraising are also up. From 56 in 2019/20 to 84 in 2020/21.

A key factor has been the heightened use of digital fundraising methods deployed by charities during the pandemic, said the regulator.

Social media, websites and advertising banners are among the areas of online fundraising being complained about.

The Fundraising Regulator has pledged to “focus on supporting the sector to achieve good standards of fundraising in this area, and to understand the risks that this method can involve”.

This will include reviewing the Code of Fundraising Practice in 2022, “to consider where existing standards in the code related to digital fundraising are sufficient to support the sector”.

Other areas of fundraising to attract public concern are addressed mail, which was the focus of 3,687 complaints to charities, and corporate fundraising, which attracted 2,504 complaints.

Despite the increase in online fundraising concerns, the total number of complaints received by charities about their fundraising was down during the health crisis.

In 2020/21, 17,800 complaints were received, which is down 4% on last year’s figure.
Charity bags remain the most complained about method of fundraising reported by the public to the regulator.

“This report is an early indicator of the impact of the pandemic on the charity sector and it is a vital tool to help us understand where the sector needs to improve its fundraising practices,” said Fundraising Regulator chief executive Gerald Oppenheim.

“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.”

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