Editorial: How tight is the telephone code?

The Institute of Fundraising's new rules allow agencies to commit technical breaches of the rules, says Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector
Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector

Last autumn, Third Sector reported on a session of the International Fundraising Congress where the managing director of a major telephone fundraising agency told delegates that if they had donors who had asked not to receive fundraising calls, they could make "administrative" calls to them to ask if they had changed their minds.

The Information Commissioner's Office said it was concerned about this practice, and the Institute of Fundraising has now revised its rules on telephone fundraising in the light of this case. The rules have always said administrative calls are not governed by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations; now they also say that marketing calls under the guise of administrative calls "ought not to be made". Other new sections say administrative calls differ from marketing calls in that they are not made with the specific purpose of soliciting a donation, and that "supporters' marketing preferences can be verified during a genuine administrative call". But there is no definition of what an administrative call is, and it's not hard to see how agencies could arrange things in such a way as to carry on as before.

The new code also deals with calling people who, since becoming donors, have registered with the Telephone Preference Service to indicate that they do not want to receive marketing calls. It says such people can still be called, providing the organisation judges them to be sufficiently "warm". Such calls are a technical breach of the regulations, the code adds, but no action will be taken unless someone complains to the Information Commissioner. In nautical circles this would be called sailing close to the wind.

Will the code help protect citizens from unwanted calls from charities, stem the flow of people towards the TPS or head off the possibility of stronger restrictions from the EU? It seems unlikely. The code seems, rather, to have been carefully crafted to allow agencies to make hay while the sun shines.

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