Fundraisers misled authorities about their work, FRSB report finds

Regulator concludes that the defunct agency Fundraising Initiatives told one local authority it planned to conduct an awareness-raising campaign when it was actually soliciting for direct debit donations

The Fundraising Standards Board has concluded that the RSPCA and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home broke fundraising rules by failing to adequately monitor a fundraising agency that misled authorities about the work it was carrying out.

In an adjudication report published today, the FRSB says it found that the now defunct agency Fundraising Initiatives, which was working on behalf of both charities, misled at least one local authority when booking space for face-to-face activity on private sites, in breach of the Code of Fundraising Practice.

The complainant contacted both charities between July and September last year to raise concerns that neither appeared to be adequately monitoring the activities of the agency, which was carrying out face-to-face campaigns on private sites, including supermarkets and shopping centres, with the aim of securing direct debit donations.

The complainant claimed that neither charity seemed aware of the locations at which the agency was fundraising and did not know that it was allegedly misinforming the owners of the sites about the nature of its activities.

Agency fundraisers were also failing to deliver the required solicitation statement when talking to prospective donors, the complainant alleged.  

The FRSB’s ruling, which was made by its board on 19 May at the third and final stage of its complaints process, found that Fundraising Initiatives, which went into administration in October, had told the person responsible for booking fundraising sites for Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire that the agency intended to run an awareness-building campaign when in fact it would be trying to secure direct debit donations.

Because the agency was operating on behalf of the two charities, this meant all three organisations were in breach of section 5.2(h) of the fundraising code, which says: "Fundraising communications must not mislead, or be clearly likely to mislead, by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise."

The three organisations had also breached the code because the agency’s fundraisers solicited for direct debits on sites that did not permit such activity, the FRSB concluded.

But the regulator found there was insufficient evidence to show that agency fundraisers had failed to deliver a solicitation statement when making fundraising pitches on behalf of the two charities.

The FRSB, which has been replaced by the Fundraising Regulator but has been completing some unfinished investigations in conjunction with the new body, said it planned to contact the Office for Civil Society to suggest it review legislation around solicitation statements to ensure that people were given clear and transparent information about how their donations might be spent.

The report acknowledged that both charities had undertaken "significant remedial action over the past six months to address the shortcomings that had been identified".

A statement from Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, whose director of fundraising, Liz Tait, has been appointed chair of the Institute of Fundraising’s newly created standards advisory board, said it had acted promptly to address shortcomings identified in June last year.

"These steps included already improving the clarity of our booking letters and forms to ensure that site owners, such as supermarkets, would be left in no doubt that the purpose of any Battersea presence there was to help secure regular financial donations from members of the public," the statement said.  

It had also made improvements to its mystery shopping programme, the statement said.  

"Battersea has never, and will never, condone any fundraising activity that fails to comply with the Institute of Fundraising’s code of practice and our own internal values," the statement said.

A statement from the RSPCA said it was grateful that the complainant, David Dunne, had raised the issues, which led to the charity launching an internal investigation.

The charity acknowledged there were weaknesses in its private site fundraising and it stopped the activity to consider how it could be improved, the statement said.

It said the charity had recently started private site fundraising again after putting in place specific measures to address the shortcomings exposed.

Julian Holmes-Taylor, assistant director of income generation at the RSPCA, said: "As outlined in the report, we have put in place specific measures to improve how we monitor private site fundraising activity, including mystery shopping and further in-depth checks."

Stephen Dunmore, interim chief executive of the Fundraising Regulator, said it was considering what further action needed to be taken.

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