Charities minister Rob Wilson to meet heads of fundraising bodies to discuss Olive Cooke case

The minister says he will ask the chief executives of the Fundraising Standards Board, the Institute of Fundraising and the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association what they are doing about the issues raised by the poppy seller's death

Rob Wilson
Rob Wilson

Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, has said he will meet the chief executives of the three self-regulatory bodies for fundraising next week to discuss what action they are taking in the wake of the death of the poppy seller Olive Cooke.

Wilson, who kept his post as charities minister after the general election earlier this month, said he planned to meet Alistair McLean of the Fundraising Standards Board, Peter Lewis of the Institute of Fundraising and Peter Hills-Jones of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association to ask them to explain the steps they are taking in the light of the issues raised by Cooke’s family after her death.

Cooke’s body was found in the Avon Gorge in Bristol on 6 May. Several national newspapers made a link between her death and the high number of fundraising requests she received from various charities.

Last week the Daily Mail quoted Kathryn King, Cooke’s daughter, saying that charities including the mental health charity Mind would phone her mother asking for money even if she was already donating to them.

But this week, Jessica Dunne, Cooke's granddaughter, said that her death had nothing to do with charities, but rather with issues such as her depression.

An inquest into her death was opened this week and adjourned until July.

Wilson told Third Sector that other issues to be discussed at the meeting included unwanted fundraising calls and information sharing among charities.

The FRSB has received large numbers of complaints on both subjects from members of the public over the past week.

"One of my priorities as Minister for Civil Society is for the public to maintain high levels of trust and confidence in giving to charities," said Wilson. "Charities need to be able to ask for support, but should do in an unobtrusive way.

"I want to make sure that the sector is doing everything to reassure the public."

McLean told Third Sector that the FRSB had informed the Office for Civil Society about its investigation, announced on Monday, into the allegations that Cooke was overwhelmed by fundraising requests. "They know what we’re doing and they know what the IoF is doing," he said.

Asked if he thought the government was likely to try to tighten fundraising regulation because of Cooke’s death, he said it was up to the OCS and Wilson to do this if they wanted to.

McLean, who over the past week has been interviewed on various television channels and programmes, including Sky News, BBC Breakfast and Channel 5 News, told the BBC’s The One Show on Wednesday that he expected the FRSB’s investigation to lead to changes to the IoF’s Code of Fundraising Practice.

He said the FRSB would investigate whether the writing on charities’ direct mail communications was of an acceptable size – he said he believed it should be much bigger – and look into the "very serious matter" of how lists of donors were shared among charities.

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