In one of its rare stage-three adjudications, the Fundraising Standards Board has not upheld a complaint that the veterinary charity the PDSA took advantage of an elderly donor who was suffering from schizophrenia and made a number of substantial donations to it. The charity did not know that she was vulnerable and there was no evidence that it had put her under pressure to give, the FRSB ruled.
But it also recommended that the Institute of Fundraising, which draws up the Code of Fundraising Practice and associated guidance that the FRSB uses for its decisions, should look again at the question of fundraising from elderly people. It called for a new section of the code on working with the elderly, similar to the existing one on working with children, and the provision of guidance to help fundraisers identify vulnerable adults.
The IoF says that its standards committee will want to consider these recommendations, engage with its members and ensure any guidance reflects best practice. Behind the scenes there will no doubt be sighing and rolling of eyes from those in the fundraising world who see no need for the FRSB: the tension between the IoF and the FRSB - a necessary tension, perhaps - is always there.
But it's clear that the FRSB has put its finger on a weakness in the code and that the IoF should act. Older people are the biggest givers, not least through legacies, and receive a lot of attention from fundraisers. At the moment the code has only passing references to the elderly and is inconsistent - it refers to vulnerable adults in public collections, for example, but not in other kinds of fundraising.
One difficulty arises over how fundraisers should identify vulnerable adults when using methods other than face-to-face. You can't buy a list, and it would be impractical for charities to proactively check the vulnerability of all donors over a certain age. Another issue is that family members anxious to inherit can be over-sensitive about big parental donations. But difficulties such as these don't mean nothing can be done.