Some fundraising methods are causing discomfort and some charities might be harassing or persecuting members of the public, according to Dame Esther Rantzen, the broadcaster and founder of ChildLine and the older people’s helpline the Silver Line.
As part of her plenary address on the final day of the Institute of Fundraising’s convention in London on Wednesday, Rantzen said that although fundraising was an important way of funding crucial work, charities might have been causing distress to people who did not know how to handle unwanted approaches from them.
She said it was a shame that it had taken the death of the poppy seller Olive Cooke to draw attention to the fact that charities were probably not going about raising money in the best way.
"Until Olive died, maybe we didn’t realise that some of the methods we are using were uncomfortable, maybe harassing, maybe a bit of a persecution to people on the other end who didn’t know how to get rid of you," she said. "Why didn’t the person complain? Maybe they didn’t know how."
Rantzen said it had not been clear to the public to which organisation they should address their concerns about charities’ practices.
She acknowledged that charities often found it impossible to get their stories into the media and influence people in that way, but this was probably because the media perceived charities as hating each other and wanting to compete for limited funds.
She said that charities should work together to pitch a programme idea to the BBC for a show, which she wryly suggested could be called That’s Charity Life.
It could be broadcast on BBC1, she said, and focus on ethical issues in the charity sector and subjects such as fundraising.
The programme would showcase charities’ stories and properly credit charities for them, she said, and could contain a complaints strand, where members of the public could complain about poor treatment by charities.
"It would mean the sector wouldn’t have to look at the example of Olive Cooke to know when we’ve gone too far," she said.
Rantzen, who invented the concept of ChildLine in 1986 and the Silver Line in 2012 and is now the president of both organisations as well as a trustee of the NSPCC, said she did not believe people who founded charities should become their chief executives.
She said charity founders were good at coming up with ideas but they were often easily bored by rules and regulations, so they should appoint chief executives who were not uninterested in planning and procedures "so we can go on with our visionary thoughts and they can do great work".