Like many other charities, the Campaign to Protect Rural England engages in telephone fundraising. Indeed, it is our most effective method of recruiting new members and asking existing members to upgrade their contributions. We cannot afford newspaper or billboard advertising; we do not do street fundraising ("chugging"); and other face-to-face fundraising has, like direct mail, proved too expensive to be justifiable.
Without telephone fundraising, the CPRE would find it much harder to recruit members and raise money. Consequently, we would be less able to achieve our charitable purpose of protecting and improving the countryside for the benefit of the nation.
But telephone fundraising is now under the spotlight. A series of articles in the Daily Mail has uncovered fundraising practices that, in the words of the NCVO chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington, "have shocked not just the public, but also many people who work for charities".
The government now plans to legislate and it is consulting the sector on what sort of regulation is necessary to stamp out bad practice. This is as it should be. No one should condone the harassment of vulnerable people.
But moral panic followed by a rush to legislate rarely leads to sound laws. Charities have been under attack for some time and the sector is demoralised. Unused to being so distrusted, it is in danger of forgetting (to quote Sir Stuart again) that "charity fundraising has never been more important. We cannot afford to jeopardise charities’ fundraising now or in the future." From CPRE’s perspective, current proposals from the Institute of Fundraising and the Fundraising Standards Board – the CPRE is a member of both – would do just that.
Moral panic followed by a rush to legislate rarely leads to sound laws
One proposal is that charities should not call people who are registered with the Telephone Preference Service, even if they have given us their numbers. At the moment, we do not automatically exclude CPRE members who are registered with the TPS from phone calls about their membership. Some have been members for many years and all have given us their telephone numbers knowing that we might call them.
We check during the call that members are happy to be rung, and those who do not wish to be called are not called again. Fewer than one in a hundred complains about being called and we do not believe that our calls are causing our members concern. Both the CPRE chair and I have listened to recordings of the calls (before the recent furore) and members of our fundraising team have monitored many more. We are satisfied that the calls are carried out in a considerate way.
Calls that ask people who have taken part in online campaigns or made donations, for instance, to join CPRE are also not currently TPS screened. These supporters have given us their contact details and presumably know a call is likely. If we are not able to call them, we will lose 70 to 80 per cent of our contacts, reducing both our income and our membership. We do not believe there is a significant difference in results between those who are registered with the TPS and those who are not, which suggests that our calls do not cause great concern to those who are registered with the TPS.
Telephone fundraising is vital to recruiting and developing CPRE members. We receive very few complaints and have received none about calling TPS-registered supporters.
The proposed restrictions are an understandable reaction to recent revelations, but if adopted they will do less to protect vulnerable people than to damage good causes. The CPRE is committed to fundraising responsibly, but the proposed changes would significantly restrict our ability to protect our precious countryside. The sector must listen to criticism and make improvements, but it should make sensible improvements, not take panic measures that will undermine charities’ effectiveness.
Shaun Spiers is the chief executive of CPRE. His article was first published on the CPRE’s blog site