Direct mail code published

Charities should avoid direct mail pack incentives designed to pressure donors to give by making them feel guilty about having received an expensive item, according to new guidance published today by the Institute of Fundraising.

Incentives: pens and badges, yes; umbrellas and t-shirts, no
Incentives: pens and badges, yes; umbrellas and t-shirts, no

The code of fundraising practice Direct Mail says that fundraising organisations can enclose items to enhance the message or engage the donor with the cause, but should not include incentives solely to cause embarrassment or "financial guilt" to prompt a donation.

A press notice issued with the code suggests that pens, badges or branded bookmarks might be justifiable, but coins or "expensive umbrellas" might not be.

"Coins stuck to a letter are completely contrary to the code: you can't get a more classic example of financial guilt than that," said Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising.

"Even when something is relevant to a cause, if the ask is based principally around financial guilt, it would break the code."

The code does not set out specific examples or give prices of items that would be banned from inclusion.

"What we can't do, for example, is say that 20p is acceptable but 25p is not," said Boswell. "It's less about what the item costs and more about the issue and nature of why it is included."

The code draws a distinction between incentives designed to encourage donations, inserts that demonstrate the work of the organisation and thank-you gifts. Boswell said that more expensive items could be sent as thank-you gifts, rather than incentives.

"T-shirts sent to thank donors for their participation are great," he said.

Charities should also consider the environmental impact of incentives and encourage recipients to recycle, the code advises.

In addition to advice on enclosures, the code also sets out guidelines on the use of data, targeting, the use of surveys in fundraising, reciprocal mailings and unaddressed mail.

It also reminds charities that their marketing should be decent, honest, transparent and in compliance with the Committee of Advertising Practice's code.

It warns fundraisers to take care when using shocking images because exaggeration could undermine the charity and the sector.


- No incentives that cause guilt, shock or inconvenience
- No shocking images on outer envelopes
- Identify mailing preference subscribers
- Review past results to target relevant audiences
- Allow donors to choose mailing frequency
- State clearly the purpose of questionnaires
- Organisations involved in reciprocal mailing should exchange written agreements before mailing takes place

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