Complaints recorded by FRSB members go up by 67 per cent

Alistair McLean, chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board, is concerned about the growth in areas including email fundraising but says complaints are few 'in the grand scheme of things'

Alistair McLean, chief executive of the FRSB
Alistair McLean, chief executive of the FRSB

The number of complaints recorded by charities that are members of the Fundraising Standards Board increased by 67 per cent between 2010 and 2011, according to its annual report, published today. FRSB members reported receiving 30,838 complaints last year, compared with 18,442 the year before.

But the number of recorded contacts with potential donors over the same period increased dramatically by 146 per cent from 3.9 billion in 2010 to 9.6 billion last year, largely because of the rise in the use of advertising, which reaches large numbers of people per campaign. This meant the number of complaints as a percentage of contacts fell to 0.0003 per cent in 2011 from 0.00047 per cent in 2010.

As in previous years, the highest number of complaints were about addressed direct mail (14,903, which was nearly half of the total), followed by telephone fundraising (3,892) and doorstep face to face fundraising (2,877).

The biggest percentage rise in complaints concerned email fundraising, up 282 per cent from 464 in 2010 to 1,773 last year. The volume of emails sent by FRSB members increased by 25 per cent over the same period, from 86.8 million to 108.7 million.

Complaints about data protection totalled 2,927, of which 59 per cent related to direct mail, 23 per cent to email and 16 per cent to telephone fundraising. Taken with complaints about poor use of data, complaints relating to data formed about one sixth (5,441) of all complaints.

Complaints about outdoor fundraising, including fun runs and challenge events such as the Three Peaks, rose by 187 per cent, even though the volume of activity fell by 18 per cent.

The report shows that the bulk of the rise in contacts came from the increase in the use by charities in 2011 of outdoor, radio and TV advertising, which reach high estimated number of people per campaign. These increased by 636 per cent, 371 per cent and 202 per cent respectively, accounting together for 4.9bn of the year-on-year increase in total contacts of 5.7bn.

Another factor in the growth of recorded contacts was new research by the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, which found that street fundraisers approach on average 180 people for each sign-up. In 2010 the number of contacts for face to face street fundraising was recorded as 284,168 - the number of sign-ups. In 2011 the figure was 41.9m - the number of sign-ups multiplied by 180.

There were also three new categories of fundraising about which complaints were recorded in 2011 - clothing collections, which accounted for 6.8m contacts, private site face to face (448,000) and SMS, or text, fundraising (710,000). Clothing collections produced 1,034 complaints.

Alistair McLean, chief executive of the FRSB, attributed the huge increase in contacts partly to growing membership, which went up from 1,237 to 1,412 year on year, and to better reporting and recording. The 2011 FRSB survey had an 82 per cent response rate from members, equating to 1,148 organisations, compared with 80 per cent in 2010, or 848 organisations.

McLean said: "It is really important that the figures are taken in context because in the grand scheme of things the number of complaints is very small when compared with the steep increase in general fundraising activity." He said he was concerned about some areas, including email fundraising, which would be looked at in closer detail next year to see why more people were complaining.

The vast majority of complaints were resolved by the relevant charity. Fifteen were taken to the second stage of the FRSB’s procedure, when the regulator's staff become involved, compared with 12 in 2010.

The 15 escalated complaints included five that involved clothing collections, three about face-to-face fundraising, two about outdoor events and one regarding fundraising in schools. Three of these went to a stage three adjudication by the FRSB board and one, against the charity Painted Children, was upheld.

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