Charity chairs tell MPs they have cut the number of telephone calls they make to supporters

The chief executives of Oxfam, the NSPCC and the RSPCA were appearing in front of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee yesterday

Karen Brown, Daphne Harris and Mark Wood
Karen Brown, Daphne Harris and Mark Wood

The NSPCC, Oxfam the RSPCA have cut the number of calls they make to supporters as a result of the recent controversy over charities’ fundraising activities, the organisation’s chairs told MPs.

Mark Wood of the NSPCC, Karen Brown of Oxfam and Daphne Harris of the RSPCA appeared before MPs on the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee yesterday to answer questions as part of the committee’s inquiry into charity fundraising.

Brown, who has been chair of Oxfam since 2011, said the international development charity spent approximately £21m on fundraising in its last financial year, of which £3.5m went on telephone fundraising, but this amount would "go down now very considerably".

Wood, a former chief executive of the consultancy Jardine Lloyd Thompson Employee Benefits, said the NSPCC needed to start working with far fewer fundraising agencies and be guided more by its culture and ethos than by financial considerations.

And Harris, who became chair of the RSPCA in 2008, said the animal charity was putting greater emphasis on the quality of calls than on high volumes.

Wood said the NSPCC made about 350,000 calls to supporters over the past year and received 121 complaints about its telephone fundraising. He said that after the Daily Mail alleged in July that the NSPCC and other charities had been exploiting loopholes in the Telephone Preference Service, the charity had discovered that it had been making calls to 128 TPS-registered people, but this was due to "human error" and it had informed the Information Commissioner’s Office of this.

Wood said that while many "subject matter" experts were charity trustees, a greater breadth of skills was needed across charities’ boards, particularly those of a financial nature. He said MPs could look into obliging charity boards to do annual audits of those skills.

Wood said he would not object if the PACAC was to suggest that the actions taken as a result of Sir Stuart Etherington’s review of fundraising self-regulation were even tougher than the review’s recommendations.

He said he approved of the introduction of a Fundraising Preference Service because he believed this would remove ambiguity about whether donors wished to be contacted.

Wood said he was uncomfortable with the idea of the new fundraising regulator being funded by a levy on charities, but this would probably be worth the investment.

Oxfam’s Brown said that two-thirds of the charity’s supporters had opted out of receiving calls and only 5 per cent of its supporters were aged 75 or over. She said charities lagged behind the commercial sector because they were using unsophisticated customer relationship management systems.

Recent events had demonstrated that the sector needed to get better at investing in these systems and explaining that they incurred administration costs in order to protect their supporters, she said.

All three of the charity chairs said their organisations were not among the eight charities contacted by the ICO in March 2014 because of concerns about their activities.

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