FRSB urges Institute of Fundraising to review its codes after PDSA case

The fundraising regulator rejected a complaint against the veterinary charity that it pressured a vulnerable woman into donating, but chair Colin Lloyd says the relevant codes should be reviewed

Colin Lloyd
Colin Lloyd

The Fundraising Standards Board has asked the Institute of Fundraising to review its codes of practice after the self-regulation body rejected a complaint about the PDSA’s fundraising methods.

A complaint was made to the veterinary charity in January last year by a solicitor on behalf of someone who claimed the charity had taken advantage of their sick mother, who suffered from schizophrenia, by accepting several large donations from her over a 14-month period.

The solicitor said the woman’s mental health had been in decline since her husband’s death in 2009 and questioned the frequency and size of the donations she made because she "had never expressed a particular affection for animals and had never been disposed to charitable giving".

The complainant requested that the donations, of an unspecified amount, be returned.

The IoF’s code of practice says that fundraisers should not contact vulnerable people who might be incapable of informed consent due to illness, drug use or "age-related confusion".

The solicitor asked the PDSA to carry out an internal investigation to determine whether the complainant’s mother, since deceased, had the proper capacity to make the donations and that no improper pressure was placed on her.

The PDSA carried out an investigation and trustees decided in June last year that there was no evidence the charity knew the woman was vulnerable and that it did not place improper pressure on her.

The charity said it would not be appropriate to return the donations and wrote to the complainant in July to tell them this.

The complainant then contacted the FRSB directly and asked the regulator to intervene.

The FRSB went through all three of the steps of its adjudication process, which involved contacting the PDSA to gauge the extent of the woman’s relationship with the charity, at which point it emerged that she was not only a donor but had also used its services.

The regulator concluded that the PDSA had not placed undue pressure on the woman and that she had a long-standing relationship with the charity, which meant the donations were not out of character.

But the FRSB recommended that the IoF update its codes of practice to include a new section on working with the elderly, in a similar vein to its codes governing working with children.

It also called on the IoF to provide fundraisers with better guidance on identifying vulnerable adults and for a consistent approach toward this demographic across all fundraising methods.

Colin Lloyd, chair of the FRSB, said: "It can be difficult for fundraisers to establish whether individuals are vulnerable.

"Any further guidance that the IoF could develop for fundraising from the elderly and vulnerable people would be of benefit to the sector and provide greater protection for the public."

The IoF said its codes of practice were an evolving set of rules.

"Our standards committee will want to carefully consider this adjudication and we will engage with our members to ensure the code and any guidance we produce around vulnerable adults and working with older people reflects best practice across the sector," said Peter Lewis, chief executive of the IoF.

In a statement, the PDSA said: "We are very mindful of the difficult and tragic circumstances underlying this case and offer our sincere condolences. We hope that the latest adjudication from the FRSB can bring matters to a close.

"As a charity reliant entirely on donations and public goodwill, we always strive to maintain the very highest standards in our activities, including fundraising. We are of course extremely grateful to the kind donors who support our vital work and we take all reasonable steps to ensure such funding is freely and voluntarily given.

"As such, we have complied with every step of this investigation and we are satisfied with the final outcome announced by the FRSB."

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