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Government crackdown on unethical charity fundraising

No more excuses for charity fundraisers as new rules brought in to protect vulnerable people.

Rob Wilson, Minister for Civil Society, recently announced:

  • large charities could be forced to sign up to a new fundraising watchdog
  • if large charities fail to appropriately safeguard their supporters in any way the government will have new powers to intervene and regulate charity fundraising
  • the new watchdog will require charities to have the explicit consent of all donors, past and present, before any data can be shared

Some fundraisers working on behalf of Britain’s biggest charities have been found ducking codes of good practice and putting vulnerable donors at risk. The new fundraising watchdog will make sure large charities adhere to a strict code of good practice, which includes protecting the identity of those who give them donations. Anyone who is inundated with fundraising marketing material from charities will be able to press “reset” and stop receiving this material.

Income from individuals is the biggest single source of income for the voluntary sector, at £18.8 billion of the sector’s £40.5 billion annual income. These new measures are intended to increase trust in charities and further strengthen charitable giving.

The Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson, commented on the changes:

Charitable giving is one of the most decent and generous attributes of a civilised society – and we need to rebuild people’s faith in the big charities. Those who give to charity should know their donation is going to further a worthy cause and this trust will never be abused.

We are building a new regulatory structure to make sure the right safeguards exist to protect those people at risk of exploitation. This should help the charities to draw a line under previous bad practice and I hope we will see even more people making donations and giving their time to help others in the months and years ahead.

These powers build on the recent review of charity fundraising by Sir Stuart Etherington (pdf) and will further bolster changes in the Charities Bill that give the Charity Commission more teeth to tackle abuse.

The Etherington review published a report into charity fundraising in September. The review concluded that a new beefed-up fundraising self-regulator was needed to set standards and to refer persistent offenders or refer serious failures which raise concerns about breach of trustee duties to the Charity Commission or data concerns to the Information Commissioner.

Notes to editors

  1. The government accepts all the recommendations laid out in the Etherington Review and is supportive of the Fundraising Preference Service.
  2. Large charities are likely to be defined in this context as those that spend more than £100,000 per year on public fundraising.
  3. The new watchdog will be funded by the charities themselves and will be tasked with setting standards for the Code of Fundraising Practice.
  4. Over the summer the Fundraising code was strengthened to protect vulnerable people by:
    • getting commitment from the Institute of Fundraising to increase the font size of the ‘small print’ to make sure people can ‘opt out’ of receiving future communications
    • banning charities from selling individual’s data to a third party
    • ensuring all fundraising calls from agencies and call centres will be made from an identifiable number
  5. Amendments to the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, currently in Parliament, will require charity trustees of large charities (>£1m) to be more accountable and transparent about their fundraising by reporting details in their annual reports, including whether agencies are used and how the public and vulnerable people are protected from undue pressure and poor practice. It also requires all charities to have more detail in contracts with fundraising agencies including how the public and vulnerable people are to be protected from undue pressure and poor practices and how the charity will monitor the fundraising agency.
  6. In September 17 of the largest fundraising charities, including the British Red Cross, the NSPCC, Oxfam and Macmillan Cancer Support pledged in The Times to introduce an “opt in” system, banning them from passing on details of their donors to other ­charities without the individual’s express permission.


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