Fundraisers for human rights charity 'put undue pressure on donors'

A Fundraising Regulator decision says volunteer fundraisers for the International Liberty Association pressed donors to give as much as £11,000 and even to take out loans

Volunteer fundraisers for the International Liberty Association put undue pressure on donors to give thousands of pounds, the Fundraising Regulator has found after receiving multiple complaints about the charity.

Fundraisers for the London-based human rights charity pressured donors in their own homes to give as much as £11,000 and suggested that those who could not afford such donations should take out loans, according to the complaints.

In one case, the regulator said, ILA volunteers continued to engage with and seek donations from a vulnerable individual against their wishes – even when they had been told to stop by police.

Trustees of the charity had been aware of complaints about some of the volunteers but had not taken steps to address them, the regulator said in a decision published today.

In the decision, the regulator said it was "concerned" to have received eight similar complaints about the charity and to have discovered a further eight during its investigation.

"It is unusual for us to receive multiple complaints about one charity and particularly for those complaints to raise similar issues," the decision said.

The complaints all alleged that fundraising volunteers from the charity carried out visits to the homes of people who had previously been in touch with the charity – for example, where they had made one-off £10 donations – and had placed "significant and undue pressure" on potential donors, asking them for "generally thousands of pounds, up to £11,000", the decision said.

The fundraisers pressured donors with highly emotive details of the plight of beneficiaries overseas, including the fundraisers’ own relatives, and the cost of bringing them to safety.

The regulator said that the combination of the fundraising method and the fundraisers’ closeness to the highly emotive cause "opens the charity and the public to an unacceptable level of risk".

Gerald Oppenheim, chief executive of the Fundraising Regulator, said: "The fundraising practices of the ILA clearly contravene the Code of Fundraising Practice and represent a risk to donors as well as the organisation itself. We were particularly concerned about the methods used by fundraisers and the lack of oversight from trustees."

The decision said trustees had pledged to ensure fundraisers were given training in British cultural norms. Many of the issues had arisen from the fundraisers expecting donors to haggle on suggested donations and not understanding that a British donor saying they would like to help but could not afford to was in fact a polite British refusal.

The trustees had introduced a policy that prevented fundraisers from collecting donations directly during the fundraising visit, the decision said.

They would also telephone people who had been visited by fundraisers to request feedback, it said.

In three months’ time, the charity will be required to report back to the regulator on how many donors had been contacted by trustees after a visit from fundraisers, copies of reports from those follow-up calls and any action taken when concerns were raised, the decision said.

In a statement, the trustees said: "We have worked closely with Fundraising Regulator during the past year to address the concerns of the regulator about the charity’s fundraising model."

It said trustees were wholeheartedly committed to the Code of Fundraising Practice and implementing the regulator’s recommendations.

"The trustees have already implemented a number of steps to address the concerns raised by the Fundraising Regulator," the statement said.

"They intend to strengthen these measures and will report their achievements to the regulator in the next three months, as requested by the report."

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