Public placed under 'undue pressure' to donate to Oxfam, rules FRSB

Regulator finds the charity and its former fundraising agencies Listen and the Street Academy did breach the fundraising code of practice

Oxfam street fundraising
Oxfam street fundraising

The Fundraising Standards Board has called for the Institute of Fundraising to amend its code of practice so that fundraisers can no longer ask for a donation more than twice during a telephone call after ruling that the fundraising agency Listen placed "undue pressure" on the public to donate when working on behalf of Oxfam.

The FRSB launched an investigation into Listen, Oxfam and the Street Academy, the face-to-face agency run by the housing charity Shelter, after Mail on Sunday investigation claimed that they were using high-pressure donor recruitment tactics during a campaign for Oxfam.

In its adjudication report, published today, the FRSB said that Listen had an "inflexible" approach and had breached the IoF’s Code of Fundraising Practice by exerting undue pressure on supporters with its policy of asking three times for a donation by phone.

The FRSB said it had written to the IoF asking it to review clause 8.3.1 of the code, which currently states that fundraisers can ask no more than three times for a donation during the course of a call. It said that asking for a third time after a donor had already said no twice could constitute undue pressure.

The FRSB also said that all three organisations had breached the code in other ways. Listen, it said, breached the code by refusing to take people off its contact list unless they used one of three specific phrases.

Oxfam, the regulator said, failed to ensure that its fundraising agencies were complying with the code, failed to give donors a clear option to opt out from future contact in an SMS text message and did not allow sufficient time between securing a text donation on the street and the subsequent follow-up telephone call. The FRSB said this meant that those who may have chosen to opt out from calls were not excluded from Listen’s call list.

The investigation also found that a fundraiser working for The Street Academy failed to deliver the required solicitation statement indicating that she was paid and employed by a third party, and did not make it clear how the supporter’s contact details would be used in the future.

The FRSB report says it found no evidence that the charity or agencies expressly targeted elderly supporters, describing the Mail on Sunday’s headline "Oxfam Targets Donors Aged 98" as "misleading" and "untrue". 

The IoF could not confirm at this stage whether it would comply with the FRSB’s request for it to amend the code, but Suzanne McCarthy, chair of the IoF standards committee, which sets the code, said in a statement that the issues raised in the FRSB’s report would be brought to the committee’s attention. She said: "The standards committee is absolutely clear that no member of the public must ever be put under undue pressure to donate."

Listen said in a statement that the agency moved quickly to address any evidence of practice that fell below its "normal high standards". "Our proactivity has meant that all of the subsequent recommendations made by the FRSB have been in place for several months now," it said.

Mark Goldring, chief executive of Oxfam GB, said: "We recognise that the Mail on Sunday highlighted practices that did not meet the high standards we expect of those fundraising on our behalf and that were not picked up by our own monitoring systems. That is why we quickly halted work with Listen Ltd and have already acted voluntarily to strengthen our monitoring of fundraising agencies." 

Jenni Bright, head of the Street Academy, said: "We took these findings very seriously and had already retrained all of the Street Academy staff back in June, which is reflected in the FRSB report. Regular mystery shopping is undertaken to make sure that Street Academy fundraisers adhere to our strict code of practice and that of the Public Fundraising Association at all times." 

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