Diabetes UK has been told to apologise to supporters after it broke fundraising rules during a campaign.
The Fundraising Standards Board recommended the charity publish an apology on its website home page after several infringements during a campaign run with telephone agency, Listen Fundraising.
Diabetes UK’s pedometer campaign, which ran from November 2013 to February 2014, was found to have breached four clauses of the Institute of Fundraising’s Code of Fundraising Practice, according to an adjudication published by the FRSB on Friday.
The FRSB has referred the case to the Information Commissioner’s Office to determine whether the charity’s actions also breached the Data Protection Act and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.
A complaint about the campaign was made in January by a woman who received a phone call from a Listen fundraiser after responding by text to Diabetes UK’s advertisement for a free pedometer and diabetes guide, the FRSB said.
We apologise to anyone affected by this. We want to reassure our supporters that we have learned from thisDiabetes UK website statement
The complainant objected to the call, describing it as "deceiving" that the charity had called her because she had requested a pedometer, without giving her any opportunity to opt in or out of future texts or marketing approaches. She also claimed that the fundraiser who made the call had put her under pressure to donate and had been patronising when she stated she couldn’t afford to give because she was out of work due to ill health.
The FRSB said that the campaign had breached the Institute of Fundraising’s code of practice, which says that charities should not mislead or deceive donors or contacts as to how their information will be used and how the organisation may contact them in future; that charities should be clear in all communications and give donors the option to opt out by replying to a text; that personal data should be processed fairly and lawfully; and that charities should not make marketing calls under the guise of administrative calls.
However, it found that the campaign had not breached the rule that fundraisers ought not to pressurise donors or potential donors.
The FRSB recommended that Diabetes UK issued a prominent apology on its website to the campaign’s 25,000 respondents "who were also likely to have been misled by the charity’s actions".
The charity responded by publishing a link entitled "FRSB adjudication report" on its home page. Readers who click through can view an article in which the charity apologies to anyone affected by the campaign.
The FRSB also ordered the charity to include clear and conspicuous opportunities for respondents to opt out of any future contact from the charity in respect of any future campaigns it initiates, to issue an apology to the complainant "for misleading her" and to check all telephone numbers selected for telemarketing against the Telephone Preference Service register for all future campaigns.
The FRSB also said it expected Listen Fundraising to ensure that its charity clients always obtained the proper consent from the public to receive a fundraising call and that its fundraisers only used wording approved by its charity clients. The agency should treat the public with respect at all times, the regulator added.
Andrew Hind, chair of the FRSB, said: "Diabetes UK’s pedometer campaign was not solely designed to assist the public by raising awareness of diabetes. It also had a clear motive to solicit contact details for a subsequent fundraising approach to those who responded. As a result, we have concluded that the charity’s campaign misled the public."
A spokesman for Diabetes UK said in a statement:
We accept the FRSB’s ruling that, on this occasion, we made a mistake and should have been clearer that as well as sending people a pedometer and guide to diabetes, we also planned to ask them to become a financial supporter, as well as given them the chance to opt out. We have already apologised to the person who complained and we have learned from this. We will be making sure we are crystal clear in all our future fundraising work about whether people are likely to be asked for a donation.
Listen Fundraising said it was pleased an allegation of undue pressure had not been upheld and said it was not informed by the FRSB about a second allegation regarding consent and so could not respond.
"Nevertheless, we have noted the regulator’s recommendations," it said in a statement.
Alistair McLean, chief executive of the FRSB, said that Listen was informed about the breach on 27 October and given a deadline of 10 days to respond, which it did not meet.
Peter Lewis, chief executive of the IoF, said: "The Institute of Fundraising acknowledges the clear ruling today from the FRSB that the Diabetes UK campaign breached the rules laid out in the IoF’s Code of Fundraising Practice.
"When our members are found to be in breach the code it is right that they are held to account. This will continue under the strengthened system of self-regulation coming into effect next year."