Charities must rebuild trust after death of Olive Cooke, says Chris Combemale of the Direct Marketing Association

Combemale says excessive communication to existing donors is not the right approach for charities to take

Chris Combemale
Chris Combemale

Charities must rebuild trust after the death of Olive Cooke and be careful to not be intrusive or excessive in their marketing, according to Chris Combemale, executive director of the trade body the Direct Marketing Association.

In a statement issued yesterday in response to the death of the 92-year old poppy seller, whose body was found earlier this month in the Avon Gorge near the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol, Combemale said that excessive communication to existing donors was not the right approach for charities to take.

"If any company, charity or otherwise, is to succeed today it has to be trusted," he said. "The shocking story of Olive Cooke shows that trust is easily lost.

"We know that trust is vital for growing and sustaining business relationships, and the charitable sector has to work to rebuild this trust. If their customers are vulnerable, they must take particular care to avoid intrusive or excessive marketing and conduct their communication in a consistently responsible manner."

Combemale said that the Fundraising Standards Board had requested the DMA’s assistance in conducting its investigation into whether Cooke was overwhelmed by fundraising requests, and that the DMA was happy to help.

But he said that, despite the views of some sector commentators, the problem was not a lack of regulation or guidance in the sector but rather that some charities were only paying lip service to that guidance.

He said they should be adhering to the rules of the Mailing Preference Service and the Telephone Preference Service as well as other sector codes of practice.

"Charity or not, the principle is the same – treat your customers with the respect they deserve," he said. "Once this basic principle is forgotten, then the brand, the business, is in trouble."

Cooke had given an interview to the Bristol Post newspaper last year in which she said she had received 267 letters from various charities in just one month.

Some national newspapers last week claimed claimed Cooke had killed herself after being bombarded by charity fundraising requests.

But Cooke’s family said this week that charities were not to blame for her death.

An inquest is yet to take place.

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