Complaints about online fundraising by larger charities more than trebled last year, new figures from the Fundraising Regulator show.
The regulator’s latest annual complaints report, published today, shows that complaints about online fundraising received by 56 of the largest fundraising charities in the UK rose to 5,836 in the year to the end of March, compared with 1,660 in the previous year.
It is the first time in four years of the regulator producing such a report that online fundraising, which includes social media, charity websites and advertising banners, has been the most complained-about method among the sample charities.
But the regulator said that despite the increase in complaints, the number of concerns reported were relatively small when compared with the level of activity carried out.
It said the figures translated to one complaint generated for every 1.9 million impressions, or the number of times a piece of online advertising had been displayed to someone.
Complaints about corporate fundraising also rose dramatically, to 2,504 compared with 108 in the previous year.
But the total number of complaints reported by the 56 charities was down to 17,800, more than 700 fewer than in the previous year.
In a period when most in-person fundraising activity was curtailed because of the pandemic, complaints about door-to-door fundraising plummeted from 2,413 in 2019/20 to 752 last year.
Complaints about social events were down to 375 from 1,757 while those about challenge and sponsorship events dropped to 681 compared with 2,063 in the previous year,
“The increase in online and digital fundraising complaints aligns with how charitable fundraising activity shifted during the pandemic,” the regulator said.
“When restrictions on person-to-person contact were put in place, many charities increased their use of online fundraising, while public fundraising methods, such as events fundraising, street fundraising and door-to-door fundraising were paused.”
The Fundraising Regulator said it received 84 complaints from people about digital fundraising methods, up from 56 in the previous year.
It said it would “focus on supporting the sector to achieve good standards of fundraising in this area” and review the Code of Fundraising Practice to see whether it needed updating in relation to digital fundraising.
Charity bags were the cause of the 105 complaints to the regulator – the highest number for the third successive year.
The regulator said the most common cause of complaint across all fundraising methods was misleading information, which could involve unclear claims about why donations are needed or how they will be spent, or a failure to present information that allows the donor to make an informed decision.
The regulator said the 56 charities that shared their complaints data for the report are household name organisations that each spend more than £5m a year on their fundraising activities.
“Together they account for a significant proportion of the total amount fundraised from members of the public each year,” the report says.
The charities are not identified in the report.
Gerald Oppenheim, chief executive of the Fundraising Regulator, said: “It is encouraging to see that the overall number of complaints about charitable fundraising continued to decline during the pandemic, which shows that good fundraising practice has prevailed at a time of unprecedented challenges for the sector.”