The Fundraising Standards Board has upheld a complaint that a Save the Children appeal was misleading because it suggested that donations to build clinics for pregnant women in Liberia would be of direct benefit to the child of the woman pictured on the charity’s advertising materials.
In an adjudication ruling published today, the FRSB says that the charity’s 2013 Liberia Capital Appeal breached the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice. The appeal focused on Zinnah, a pregnant woman who had previously given birth at the side of the road, and asked for funds to build clinics for expectant mothers in Liberia.
The FRSB said that the misleading statement, which was used in a direct-mail campaign and a fundraising web page, was the result of a lack of attention to detail during the copywriting and sign-off process for the campaign.
An existing monthly donor to Save the Children raised his concerns with the charity on 5 August last year during a phone call to make a £50 donation after receiving Liberia appeal materials in the post. The man had sought assurance that a new clinic would be built in time for the birth of Zinnah’s baby, but was told the clinic would not be built in time.
Save the Children responded during the call that the charity had merely intended to use Zinnah as an example of the women who would benefit from the new clinics.
Save the Children expressed regret for the appeal’s "inconsistencies" in emails to the complainant, but said that the inaccuracies were unintentional and there had been no deliberate attempt to mislead.
The complainant then wrote to the charity, suggesting all appeal recipients be sent a letter highlighting the inaccuracies and offering them refunds. After further correspondence, the charity announced that it would be writing to all donors to the Liberia appeal and publishing a correction in its supporter magazine, as well as editing its fundraising web page to refer less specifically to Zinnah.
On 25 September last year, the charity informed the complainant that an internal review of the appeal would be conducted.
The complainant first contacted the FRSB last December after declining an invitation to attend a meeting with the charity’s audit committee chair because he was told he would not be privy to the terms of reference for the review, nor the report or the underlying documents.
Colin Lloyd, chair of the FRSB, said in a statement: "The case has demonstrated to the FRSB board not only the importance of code compliance but also the operation of an effective and robust complaint handling process for charities. We welcome the significant steps that the charity has taken not only to rectify matters, but also to improve its ongoing process."
A spokeswoman for Save the Children said: "While this was not in any way deliberate, Save the Children recognises and accepts that the way in which parts of our Liberia Capital Appeal 2013 were communicated did not meet our own high standards. Save the Children has taken this complaint seriously. We have fully reviewed our compliance procedures and strengthened our compliance function to help ensure this does not happen again."
The FRSB noted that Save the Children should have done more to acknowledge the validity of the complainant’s concerns from the outset, as well as making him aware of the complaints process. The complainant had attempted to complain to the Charity Commission before contacting the FRSB.