The Fundraising Regulator upheld 81 per cent of the complaints it investigated in the past financial year, according to Sarah Fox, the regulator’s head of casework.
But she told delegates at the Institute of Fundraising’s annual convention in central London yesterday that, although the rate of upheld complaints was high, it was down from 100 per cent the year before.
Fox said the regulator had received more than 1,100 complaints in the year to 31 March, a 20 per cent increase on the year before, but the majority of them were outside the regulator’s remit and should have been directed to the Charity Commission, the police or the Information Commissioner’s Office.
The regulator had issued 55 decisions after investigations, she said, finding a breach of the Code of Fundraising Practice in 81 per cent of issues raised.
The highest number of complaints had been about door-to-door, street fundraising, unaddressed mail and charity bags, she said.
But Fox added that a major theme to have emerged was the failure of organisations to properly monitor third parties working on their behalf and to ensure that contractual arrangements were in place to allow charities to audit agencies and ensure they were complying with the code.
"Not having those arrangements in place is where the sector has genuinely fallen short," she said.
The most frequent area in which the regulator had identified a breach of the code by a charity was the handling of the complaint itself, she said.
"We recognise the sector is hugely diverse: not everybody has got a customer care team and some charities are just three people," Fox said. "But we don’t think that means you can’t have an effective complaints process in place."
Many charities had failed to fully respond to a complaint, as required by the code, she said, and anecdotally this often seemed to happen when the person tasked with dealing with the complaint was the person the complaint was about.
"That individual has naturally taken the complaint quite personally and has not been able to step back and consider that, even if they disagree with the complainant, that is the complainant’s experience of their service," she said. "You can try to improve even when you don’t agree that your service has fallen short."
Fox said in some cases it was clear that if the charity had handled the complaint better in the first place it would not have been passed on to the regulator, because the complainant would have been happy with an acknowledgement and an apology.
But she added: "This is not isolated to small charities. We have seen some very large charities dealing quite badly with complaints and, rather than seeing the complaint as an opportunity to improve, they become quite defensive and take it as a question of their worth and of the work that they have done. That leads to a negative dialogue instead of a positive one."