Direct mail: senior fundraiser warns of Government action

Campaigns by a few charities have the potential to endanger all, says the Institute of Fundraising's standards committee chair Stephen Pidgeon

WRM Africa blanket (left), and Kew sunflower seeds
WRM Africa blanket (left), and Kew sunflower seeds

About 10 charities that regularly produce rogue direct mail have the potential to endanger the whole sector, a leading fundraiser has warned.

Stephen Pidgeon, chair of the Institute of Fundraising's standards committee, told Third Sector that the number of charities involved in poor practice was small, but their actions could provoke a draconian reaction from the Government.

Unless self-regulation becomes more effective, he said, the Government could force organisations that sell mailing lists to gain people's consent before passing their details to other organisations. Currently, people must opt out if they do not want their details to be passed on.

"There are 10, maybe 12 charities that consistently break the code of practice and potentially screw the whole sector," he said. "One day the Government will say no more junk mail - opting in only - and the amount of money that would be removed from the sector is frightening." The Fundraising Standards Board has said that offenders are not likely to be members of the FRSB or the institute, but Pidgeon said they could still be brought into line by appealing to their trustees.

The institute declined to confirm how many examples of bad practice it had received since it appealed to members to let it know about "poor" direct mail (26 May, page 1). But Pidgeon said he had sent in three offending mailshots himself.

Case studies: what constitutes bad practice?

World Relief Mission

A colourful "Africa-inspired blanket" measuring 3ft by 4ft was enclosed in 83,000 mail packs sent to existing and potential donors by World Relief Mission.

The charity was set up in 1997 by three Americans, Dr Paul Irwin, Karen Irwin and Richard Gordon. Total Contact Management of Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, relayed questions to the trustees on behalf of Third Sector.

The trustees said the response rate from cold mailings was between 7.5 and 15 per cent from different parts of the list - three to four times the response from mailings without premiums. From warm donors it was 20 to 28 per cent, or five times higher.

WRM is not a member of the Institute of Fundraising or the Fundraising Standards Board. The trustees did not respond to a question about whether the campaign conformed to the IoF's direct marketing code of practice.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

A small packet of sunflower seeds formed part of a mailing last October to 95,000 existing and prospective donors by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

It was part of a continuing campaign to raise £70m over 10 years for Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, intended to ensure the survival of endangered plant species.

The mailing got a 2 per cent response rate, compared with 1 per cent for packs without seeds sent to 75,000 people. Lannah Carabonilla, senior donor recruitment manager, declined to give the target or say how much was raised.

She said Kew was not a member of the IoF or the FRSB, but she was confident that the campaign complied with the direct marketing code of practice.

"This enclosure was definitely very close to the subject - spot on. There haven't been any complaints," added Carabonilla.

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