Editorial: Direct mail still tops complaints

The latest annual report of the Fundraising Standards Board shows that the number of complaints about direct mail sent out by FRSB members went up to nearly 10,000 in 2010 - a rise of 86 per cent on the previous year, despite a 27 per cent fall in the number of mailings.

Stephen Cook, editor
Stephen Cook, editor

Only a small part of the increase is likely to relate to changes in recording practices. As in all three years for which the FRSB has now produced figures, direct mail was the subject that produced the highest number of complaints in 2010, and an analysis contained in the report shows that just over a third of last year's complaints were about poor data, just under a third about the frequency of mailings and a fifth about the tone of the mailings. The analysis says that last category of complaint is expanding.

One of the benefits of the successful establishment of the FRSB is the generation of such data to inform debates about fundraising methods. There has been a steady increase in the board's membership, which now stands at 1,296 organisations that account for more than 40 per cent of fundraising income in the UK. More than three-quarters of members conformed last year to the requirement to give the FRSB the figures about complaints they receive.

Included in the annual report is an assessment of the data by Adrian Sargeant, professor of fundraising at Indiana University in the US, who concludes that it does not suggest there is a problem with the quality of fundraising practice in any of the fundraising media concerned. Criticism of direct mail, he says, is disproportionate. But surely it is bound to attract criticism if the level of complaints, as mentioned above, rises so dramatically.

Sargeant adds, however, that we can't know the full picture until all organisations involved in fundraising join the FRSB and submit their complaints figures to it. Recalcitrant or rogue fundraisers will probably never join, but it will be easier to isolate them if the FRSB can succeed in attracting all the others.

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