A story published in the The Times over the weekend said charities had been accused of breaching fundraising rules following a rise in complaints over face-to-face fundraising. It included an interview with Lord Harris, chair of the Fundraising Regulator, who was quoted as saying fundraisers needed to be aware that people they approached may be feeling anxious about interacting as a result of the pandemic.
It also claimed that the rise in complaints had “prompted the regulator to issue guidelines to charities over the summer on how to approach face-to-face fundraising”.
Street, private site and face-to-face fundraising was halted in March as a result of the coronavirus crisis and only resumed again in July.
Daniel Fluskey, head of policy and external affairs at the IoF, tweeted that there were “two major inaccuracies in the article unfortunately”, including the statement that the new guidance had been introduced as a result of the rise in complaints, which he said was not true.
The guidance, which was jointly produced by the regulator and the IoF, was published in June, before fundraising resumed after lockdown – something Gerald Oppenheim, the regulator’s chief executive, told Third Sector was an important point “in defence of charities”.
Fluskey also disputed claims in The Times article that charities had been warned not to chase potential donors down the street as a result of Covid-19.
“This would never have been acceptable. This isn’t new, fundraisers haven’t now suddenly been told not to do this – it’s been the case for years,” he said.
He highlighted a tweet from last week by the Times journalist who wrote the article, asking for people to get in touch with their own recent experiences of fundraising which they felt were unacceptable or broke the rules.
The article did not contain any examples of individuals’ experience of bad practice.
Oppenheim said: “As ever with articles in newspapers, things get compressed and left out.”
He said the regulator had experienced an increase in complaints during July, but that this was because complaints had fallen by seven per cent while face-to-face fundraising was paused, before returning to pre-pandemic levels in July.
He said the regulator had received 87 complaints in July – slightly higher than usual for that time of year, when complaints would normally be low because many people were on holiday – and that the number of complaints in the first week of September had also been high.
But he said: “This does not reflect the fact that charities are doing anything wrong or breaching the guidance, but that, given what everybody’s been through since mid-March, there is a level of anxiety in the public about people coming up to them face-to-face… that’s an important point to remember.
“If you’re feeling anxious about being out and a fundraiser approaches you, from even a two-metre distance people have a wariness about that, and that’s what the complaints are reflecting.”
He said charities “want and need to go back to public fundraising” to make up for losses in income and rise in demand during lockdown, but that they did need to balance this with an awareness of how members of the public might be feeling.
These comments echo those made by Harris in The Times article, where he said: “The whole point is some people will be very anxious, more anxious than usual, about interacting with others, and it is essential that fundraising behaviour respects that.”