US fundraiser urges charities to go to the European Court of Human Rights to challenge government

Geoffrey W Peters of the US-based Moore DM Group tells the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands that the government is interfering with the right of charities to speak to people

European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg
European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg
  • This story has been amended: see final paragraph

Some of the large charities accused of fundraising malpractice have been urged to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights against the government’s measures to clamp down on charities’ fundraising methods.

Speaking to Third Sector at the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands this morning, Geoffrey W Peters, chief executive of the US-based Moore DM Group, a coalition of seven fundraising companies, said he had spoken to several senior UK fundraisers about challenging the government’s intervention in fundraising methods used in the UK.

The government said earlier this month that it would accept all the recommendations of Sir Stuart Etherington’s review of the self-regulation of fundraising, including the establishment of a new fundraising regulator and the introduction of a Fundraising Preference Service.

Peters said that although he was unsure what the impact of challenging the measures would be, it would help to slow things down and might make the government realise that what it was doing was not such a positive thing, he said.

However, Peters, who is a former professor of law at Creighton University in Nebraska, said he was unsure the charities had time to do as he advised because they had been so busy dealing with the negative publicity they had received in recent months.

He said that Tim Hunter, director of fundraising at Oxfam, had told him he had spent the months since July "fire-fighting", with no time to do any fundraising or administration because he was constantly having to brief people on media interviews or ensure that the charity’s message was being consistently represented in the public domain.

Peters spoke to Third Sector after delivering a session called Is There a Future for Direct Mail Fundraising? to a group of about 70 fundraisers.

During the session, he said: "I’m telling the people in the UK that they need to go to Strasbourg and make an argument, because citizens of Europe have a right to associate with whoever they wish and part of that association is being solicited for gifts.

"The government is coming in and interfering with the right of charities to speak to those people and the right of the people to associate with charities."

Peters acknowledged that US charities would have a stronger argument to make if the government tried to restrict fundraising methods there because the first amendment to the constitution "protects charities’ right to speak even to people who don’t want to hear them".

Asked by Third Sector during the session how he would amend his direct mail strategy in the face of the criticism charity direct marketers had faced in the UK, he said: "I would be very aggressively in the face of people that challenge it by telling them that if you do not ask, people will not give."

As well as giving a counter argument to the criticism, he said, charities should carry on with their existing fundraising strategies.

He said he knew fundraisers such as Mark Astarita, director of fundraising at the British Red Cross, had been criticised by the Daily Mail for earning six-figure salaries. He said: "These people are not scammers. They’re working at legitimate charities."

  • The story originally included two paragraphs about fundraising by the Camphill Village Trust. They have been removed because the information in them was inaccurate.

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