FRSB rejects complaint against RSPB because of a lack of evidence

The fundraising watchdog's adjudication urges charities to keep details of all the complaints they receive

RSPB offices
RSPB offices

Charities and fundraising agencies should retain the details of all the complaints they receive, the Fundraising Standards Board has said, after rejecting a complaint against the wildlife charity the RSPB because of a lack of evidence.

The FRSB said in an adjudication today that it had not been able to determine whether the RSPB had breached one of the rules in the Code of Fundraising Practice because the charity had not kept a detailed record of a phone conversation it had with a man who complained to it in January 2015.

The complainant was a regular monthly donor to the charity who was unhappy about receiving a call from the agency Ethicall, which was working on the charity’s behalf, asking him to upgrade his donation.

He said he called the RSPB, asked to be taken off the charity’s marketing list, and emailed the charity about his concerns a few days later. The email said that he was "disgusted" that the charity was making "begging cold calls" and indicated that he was considering cancelling his subscription.

In response, the RSPB removed the complainant’s name from its telephone fundraising lists but failed to remove his details from future mailing lists requesting supporters to upgrade. He therefore received a letter asking him if he would be willing to increase his donation last July.

This led him to complain to the FRSB, which launched an investigation into whether the charity had breached section L14.7(d) of the code of practice, which states that if a donor or contact informs an organisation that they do not wish to be subject to direct marketing, the organisation must comply with that request.

"The FRSB concluded that there was insufficient evidence available to determine that the RSPB had breached section L14.7(d) of the Institute of Fundraising code," the regulator said.

It said that it had not been able to determine whether the charity had ignored the complainant’s request to be taken off all its marketing lists because it could not tell whether this request had been clearly communicated. This was because the RSPB had not kept a detailed record of the telephone conversation it had with the complainant or retained a copy of its response to his email.

The FRSB added: "The RSPB’s failure to maintain an adequate record of correspondence relating to this case meant that the charity had been unable to demonstrate that it was operating a robust and transparent complaints process - a requirement of all FRSB members."

The regulator also said that it strongly advised all fundraising organisations to retain all details relating to every fundraising-related complaint they received. It noted that this was not currently a requirement of the code but said that it ought to be considered good practice.

A spokeswoman for the RSPB said in a statement: "It is reassuring to hear that we have not been judged in breach of the code but we thank the FRSB for its suggestions on how we can further tighten our processes and will take them on board.

"The RSPB already has thorough procedures in place along with a very low complaint rate, but we’re constantly looking for ways to improve the way we approach all of our work." She said the charity was still working with Ethicall.

The code is set by the IoF’s standards committee but it is expected to be transferred to the Fundraising Regulator by the early summer, when the FRSB will be abolished and have its workload assumed by the new body.

A spokesman for the IoF said in a statement: "Respecting and acting on supporters' wishes is an essential part of responsible fundraising.

"We note the FRSB’s recommendation that the code should require fundraising organisations to retain all details relating to every fundraising complaint and will, following discussions with the new Fundraising Regulator, ensure this is looked at and considered by the standards committee."

This is the second complaint about the RSPB that the FRSB has rejected in less than two years. In July 2014, the regulator did not uphold a complaint that the charity had made "false, misleading and exaggerated" claims on its Keep Abernethy Special fundraising web page.

Two other complaints about the proportion of the charity's income spent on conservation work and its campaigning activity were rejected by the Charity Commission in January 2015. 

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