Four major charities breached fundraising rules in their work with the now defunct fundraising agency GoGen, the Fundraising Standards Board has concluded.
In a report on its 10-month investigation into whether the British Red Cross, Macmillan Cancer Support, the NSPCC, Oxfam and GoGen flouted rules in the Code of Fundraising Practice, the FRSB says the charities had done so by failing to adequately monitor the agency’s fundraising activities.
Macmillan and the British Red Cross also breached industry guidelines by failing to make it clear to supporters how their contact data would be used, says the report, published today.
The FRSB found that GoGen breached the clause in the code that prohibits vulnerable people from being exploited because a fundraiser advised another to secure a donation from a potentially vulnerable individual.
The agency also breached the code by advocating the use of pressurising techniques during fundraiser training sessions and for failing to make clear that the purpose of phone calls was to seek financial support, according to the report.
The FRSB launched its investigation in July after allegations were made on the front page of the Daily Mail newspaper that GoGen was "exploiting loopholes" in the Telephone Preference Service in its work on behalf of the charities.
The agency ceased trading later that month, citing a "reduction in business resulting from misleading media coverage".
The FRSB found that the charities had not breached the code of practice rules on the TPS as they were at the time of the Daily Mail’s report.
In August 2015, the Institute of Fundraising introduced stricter rules on fundraising from people who have signed up to the TPS. The Information Commissioner’s Office had told the membership body the previous month that the code’s wording on this point was not compliant with the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.
The regulator also dismissed the Daily Mail’s allegation that GoGen fundraisers were trained to deliver a solicitation statement only at the end of a fundraising call – which, in some cases, would be after the donation had been secured – saying it found no evidence that this was the case.
Andrew Hind, chair of the FRSB, said in a statement: "While this investigation outlines a number of failings at the agency, ultimate responsibility always rests with charities for the conduct of any third-party agencies representing them. We welcome the significant actions that each charity has since undertaken to ensure closer working with any agencies they work with in the future, including better monitoring and supervision procedures."
Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: "Specific fundraising actions exposed at GoGen were unacceptable and, once they were revealed, the NSPCC terminated its relationship with them. We accept it would have been good practice to keep better records of our monitoring activity and have made substantial changes to our fundraising operation so we are now better placed to serve our highly valued supporters."
Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam, said: "We accept the FRSB’s findings. I would like to apologise once again for the fact we did not spot that GoGen was falling well below the high standards both we and the public expect of our fundraisers."
A spokeswoman for the Red Cross said: "We were hugely disappointed to learn last year of the behaviour of GoGen agency staff. It was completely unacceptable and not only did we suspend our work with them, but also all of our telephone fundraising while we conducted a full review of our standards and procedures. As a result we have further strengthened our practices to put in place extensive measures to monitor any agencies we work with."
Lynda Thomas, chief executive of Macmillan, said: "We are extremely sorry that the work undertaken by GoGen on our behalf did not meet the high standards we expect, which is why we immediately suspended our work with it. We have appointed a dedicated compliance manager who is undertaking a comprehensive programme of work to implement rigorous new training, quality assurance and monitoring procedures across all our fundraising activities."
Giuseppe Iantosca, who was managing director of GoGen before the agency collapsed, could not be reached for comment in time for Third Sector’s deadline. He now works with charity clients on behalf of the call centre business Confero, having decided against his plan last summer to set up a new fundraising agency that would have been called Still Fundraising.