Half of top charities fail in mystery shopping challenge

Researchers were unable to donate to half of the UK's top charities because fundraisers didn't respond to enquiries or failed to send out the right paperwork, according to a survey out today.

Potential donors contacted 40 household-name charities by phone, mail and email to try to set up direct debits as part of the annual Pell & Bales mystery shopping exercise. But only 51 per cent of attempts were successful, and it took up to 62 days for charities to respond to letters.

Of the charities approached, 36 per cent sent out no direct debit confirmation or a thank-you. They promoted Gift Aid on just 32 per cent of occasions. Only three charities consistently sent out welcome packs.

When researchers contacted charities to ask them to explain their work, many could not answer. One charity employee told researchers: "I've been working here for three years and I should know, but I don't."

However, there was an improvement in activity to try to reactivate lapsed donors. When researchers cancelled their direct debits, they were asked to reconsider on 60 per of occasions. This compared to just 10 per cent in last year's survey.

"I'm amazed that any charity would put someone on the phone who doesn't know what the charity does," said Karl Howleger, chief executive at Pell & Bales. "The good news is that there are some charities that are making an effort, and they really stand out. Shelter, Oxfam, WWF, the NSPCC and Unicef have all invested in this, and it shows."

- See Opinion, page 7. Karl Howleger will reveal the full results at his session 'Mystery Shopping 2007', which is being held in the Waterloo Room at 2.45pm today.

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