WWF-UK is warning charities to full keep control of their online marketing activity after it was accused of sending out unsolicited fundraising emails.
The environmental charity received more than 80 calls from members of the public complaining that they had received spam email from WWF-UK asking them to become donors and linking them through to the membership page of the organisation's web site.
Spamming, where companies and individuals target email addresses with unwanted messages, is an increasing problem on the internet. WWF-UK claims that the emails were sent by one of its external agencies to people who had agreed to receive mail from a range of organisations but admits that it may have offended those who didn't realise they would be targeted for donations.
"This was a case of us losing our focus and one of our agencies going a little further than we'd like and sending out an email that shouldn't have gone out," said Andrew Foot, senior fundraising executive at WWF-UK. He pledged that no further emails would be sent to people who hadn't specifically requested correspondence.
But he added that other than the 80 complaints, the email had actually performed much better than a similar campaign which had been sent out to opt-in lists.
"Overall our email activity has been very successful and we're going to continue developing this fundraising channel," he said. "Using third-party agencies is often a very efficient way of using the internet to gain new supporters, but you have to make sure that you keep tight control."
Other charities including the RSPCA, Oxfam and Save the Children have also been accused of spamming. Joe Saxton, co-founder of voluntary sector think-tank nfpSynergy, said charities should consider scrapping external agencies.
"In the absence of a formal framework for email marketing, the best way to safeguard your reputation is to invest time and energy into building and maintaining your own lists," he said.