Institute of Fundraising cracks down on poor direct mail practices

Twenty-two charities targeted after members put in complaints

The Institute of Fundraising has embarked this week on a campaign to clean up direct mail by writing to 22 charities that it believes contravene its code of practice.

The move was prompted by concerns among institute members about mail that fails to say clearly how donations are spent and uses over-emotional language or guilt-inducing gifts, such as coins.

Most of the 22 charities are not formally bound by the direct mail code because they are not members of the institute. But the letters will draw the code to their attention and invite them to comply with best practice.

The institute is giving them three weeks to respond. Those that fail to do so will be reported to the Fundraising Standards Board, which decided in July to start investigating complaints against organisations that are not FRSB members.

"We are putting clear separation between those who want to follow best practice and those who, quite frankly, are interested in turning in a quick buck," said Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the institute.

"Most charities are committed to following best practice. These 22 examples were forwarded to us by members who feel they damage both the individual charities and the name of fundraising."

The institute's code of fundraising practice on direct mail says mailings should be "decent, honest and transparent".

It says outer envelopes should not contain shocking images, incentives should not "generate a donation primarily because of financial guilt" or embarrassment, and funds must be used for the cause unless it is clearly stated otherwise.

Boswell said that if any of the 22 charities were referred to the FRSB, he hoped those in breach would be named. But Alistair McLean, chief executive of the FRSB, said its constitution prevented it from naming organisations that were not its members, and that it would privately ask them to mend their ways.

He said some charities that used "less than honourable" third parties to produce their mailings might not know they were breaking the code. "I hope most will change," he said.

Of 26,349 complaints received by FRSB members in 2008/09, 19,608 related to direct mail.

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