Rise in fundraising complaints during pandemic hit year, regulator reveals

Public complaints around fundraising have risen by 13% over the last year, according to latest figures from the Fundraising Regulator.

The latest figures are for 1 September 2019 to 31 August 2020, which saw the fundraising landscape increasingly move to digital amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over this period the regulator received 836 complaints, compared to 736 the previous 12 months.

At the start of the pandemic, as in-person fundraising was cancelled or postponed, the number of complaints to the regulator dipped.

“However, numbers picked up in July as charities began to adapt and resume activity,” says the regulator’s annual report.

“Much to their credit, fundraising organisations continued to engage with our complaints process and respond to our recommendations positively despite the pandemic pressures.”

The most complained about areas of fundraising were online pleas for donations, charity bags and face-to-face collections.

The report details how the pandemic impacted on the regulator’s investigation of complaints, which could not be resolved by the organisations involved, and where there appears to be a breach of the Fundraising Code.

During 2019/20 it completed 21 investigations, which is “a lower number than in previous years and is partly due to the impact of the pandemic, which changed the nature of the complaints we received in the second half of the year”.

The report adds: “Although the number of incoming complaints were evenly split across the two halves of the year (53% of the year’s total were received in Q1-2, and 47% in Q3-4), we only opened two new investigations in Q3-4. This is in part due to the pandemic and also because of changes we made to our investigations criteria, which ensure we are proportionate when looking into cases.”

Themes highlighted in its investigations include providing misleading information and applying undue pressure to donate. Poor complaints handling was also cited.

It found a breach of the code in 80% of the cases it investigated.

“Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, our annual report demonstrates how the sector has continued to respond positively to our regulatory activity and maintain high standards of fundraising practice,” said Gerald Oppenheim, Chief Executive of the Fundraising Regulator.

He added: “Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, this reporting year was like no other, yet it was a year in which we saw true innovation from fundraisers.

“Restrictions to social contact meant that many took to digital fundraising for the first time, while others completely overhauled how they interacted with people when carrying out face-to-face methods.”

Lord Toby Harris, the chair of the Fundraising Regulator, said: “This year our primary focus has, of course, been to help fundraising organisations meet the challenges of the pandemic through guidance and resources. We’ve also made it a priority to ensure the public know what good fundraising looks like.

“It was a year in which we saw true innovation and resilience as many organisations increased their use of digital fundraising methods and overhauled the way they interacted with donors. Collectively, the sector has responded with agility and willingness to evolve.

“As the Fundraising Regulator enters its fifth year of operation, I believe the sector has made significant strides forward. The evolution in fundraising practice we have seen in just five years is a credit to the progressive nature of the fundraising sector, and proves our regulatory model is working to raise standards.”

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