Institute of Fundraising urges charities to blow the whistle on 'poor' direct mail

Campaign launched after charities minister Kevin Brennan warns of an erosion of public confidence

The Institute of Fundraising is appealing to its members to blow the whistle on examples of direct mail that contravene the strengthened code of practice it issued last year.

A circular sent to the umbrella body's 5,000 members last week urges them to inform the institute, anonymously if they wish, about "poor" mail campaigns - particularly those that enclose incentives that have little relevance to the cause or rely on guilt to provoke a response.

The move follows a meeting between institute leaders and third sector minister Kevin Brennan. The minister had told the institute he was concerned that bad direct mail could erode public confidence in charities. It is understood that a number of MPs have raised the issue with him.

Louise Richards, the institute's director of policy and campaigns, said it decided to take action after the Fundraising Standards Board's annual review revealed that 19,600 out of 26,300 complaints from the public last year were about direct mail.

A panel of experts will assess submitted campaigns against the code, which also discourages inappropriate shock tactics and over-frequent mailings. The institute is considering imposing sanctions on charities deemed to have breached the code,
including publishing their names and making complaints to the FRSB.

Alistair McLean, chief executive of the FRSB, said many breaches of the direct mail code were by organisations that were not members of the institute or the FRSB. "It is essential that the fundraising sector gets a grasp on the scope and nature of this problem, and to do that we need a project of the type the institute has initiated," he said.

Brennan said he had met officials from both the institute and the FRSB to seek reassurance that decisive action to eradicate bad practice was being taken.

"It was a positive meeting, and I will continue to take an interest until the matter is resolved," he said.

Mick Aldridge, chief executive of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, said the institute's plan sent out mixed messages. "The institute is often saying that fundraising is fine - if it's fine, why does it have to set up a whistleblowing service?"

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