Charity direct mail tops FRSB complaints list

Charity telemarketing and door-to-door fundraising also caused problems in 2008

Charities and fundraising bodies that are members of the Fundraising Standards Board received more than 26,000 complaints from the public last year, according to the latest figures.

The FRSB's annual review says the 515 organisations that submitted returns for 2008 received 26,349 complaints, of which 19,608 related to direct mail. Telemarketing was the subject of 2,772 complaints and door-to-door fundraising attracted 1,308.

Alistair McLean, chief executive of the FRSB, said: "It's important not to belittle 26,000 complaints, but we need to consider them in the context of the 500 million contacts the organisations made last year. The complaints represent a very small proportion of their activity."

The figure of 500 million is an estimate of the number of times the public encountered fundraising activity by an FRSB member charity, including face-to-face fundraising and advertisements on the internet.

McLean said only one of the complaints led to a full adjudication by the FRSB, and only 21 required the FRSB to intervene at all. The rest were settled by the charities and fundraising bodies themselves.

But he added that there was no standard definition of a complaint: some organisations reported telephone complaints, for example, but others reported only those made in writing or by email.

Each complaint reflected more widespread discontent, he said. "A lot of people simply never get around to complaining. This means one letter is probably equivalent to about 100 complaints."
The FRSB received 8,434 complaints in 2007, but McLean said this could not be compared to 2008 because of changes in data collection. "In 2007 we didn't ask our members to tell us how many complaints they received; in 2008 we did," said McLean. "That's why this year's figure is so much higher."
The FRSB finished the year with a deficit of £134,411. McLean said this was "simply a cash flow issue caused by the date on which we paid the bills".

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