Fundraising agency Listen appoints external auditor after newspaper reports of bad practices

Agency subject of newspaper exposé
Agency subject of newspaper exposé

A telephone fundraising agency that was criticised for its practices by a national newspaper has appointed an external auditor to review its processes and has said it would film all induction training sessions from now on.

The agency, Listen, said in a statement today that it took examples of inappropriate behaviour "very seriously" and had already taken steps to tackle issues beyond the incidents filmed by the newspaper.

Mail on Sunday investigation, published on 7 June, revealed several potential breaches of the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice at both Listen and another agency, the Street Academy, which was set up by the housing charity Shelter.

In the Mail on Sunday report, an undercover reporter from the newspaper attended a training session for new recruits at Listen in which they were taught how they might collect donations from a 98-year-old pensioner and a new mother just home from hospital after giving birth to twins.

The newspaper published another article on 14 June alleging how a team manager at Listen boasted to the undercover reporter how employees regularly took drugs after work.

The agency said in today’s statement that it had appointed the accountancy firm Grant Thornton as an external independent auditor, which would look in detail at "everything from our processes to our company culture".

Listen said that all induction training sessions would be filmed and the footage made available to clients upon request. Its clients would also continue to be welcome to attend training sessions as observers, it said.

The agency said it had launched internal disciplinary proceedings to deal specifically with the issues raised by the Mail on Sunday articles. This process would be overseen by external HR advisers, it said.  

Tony Charalambides, managing director of Listen, said in the statement that he did not feel "heavily edited footage by a national newspaper with a clear anti-fundraising agenda is in any way representative of what we do".

He said: "Listen prides itself on being a leading fundraising organisation and our aim is to inform best practice across the industry. Professionalism, commitment and transparency have always been at the very heart of what we do. For example, 100 per cent of our calls are recorded and our clients are able to hear those recordings at any time. We work in partnership with our clients and they have always been able to attend our training sessions."

But he said the company had always been open to improving its work and had been "proactively looking in detail at fresh approaches to fundraising for some time".

Charalambides was also managing director of Tag Campaigns, the fundraising agency that was forced into voluntary administration after the adverse publicity of a Sunday Telegraph investigation in 2012. The Fundraising Standards Board later ruled that Tag had broken charity law.

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