Minister warns sector that window for reform after Olive Cooke case is small

In the wake of the poppy seller's death, Rob Wilson met leaders of the three fundraising self-regulatory bodies. Andy Ricketts reports

Olive Cooke: told newspaper she received 267 pieces of direct mail in one month
Olive Cooke: told newspaper she received 267 pieces of direct mail in one month

Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, warned that the window for the sector to make changes to the self-regulation of fundraising was closing as the pressure on charities resulting from the Olive Cooke case continued to grow.

His warning came at the end of a month in which he met the leaders of the three self-regulatory bodies to discuss the action they were taking after the death of the 92-year-old charity supporter and poppy seller.

National newspapers had claimed that Cooke, whose body was found in the Avon Gorge in Bristol in May, had been "hounded to death" by charity fundraisers. She gave an interview to a local newspaper last year in which she said she had received 267 pieces of charity direct mail in one month. Her family later said that she had been depressed and charities were not to blame for her death; an inquest has been adjourned until July.

Major developments in the case over the past month included William Shawcross, chair of the Charity Commission, saying in a speech that the matter was a crisis for the voluntary sector.

Then Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, used his speech at the NCVO's annual dinner to say that the self-regulation of fundraising in its current form was not working and called for "clear blue water" to be put between the professional body, the Institute of Fundraising, and the setting of the Code of Fundraising Practice.

The IoF had earlier said that changes it was making included appointing an independent chair of its standards committee, which oversees the code, and changing the word "ought" to "must" in the code.

Main milestones of a 'crisis'

26 May Alistair McLean, chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board, tells Third Sector that the Olive Cooke case will be a "watershed moment" for charity fundraising. See Talking Points

27 May The FRSB says its investigation into the issues arising from the case will address themes including the frequency with which people are approached by charities, the sharing of supporter data between charities and agencies and the opting in and out of receiving charity communications.

28 May Chris Grayling, the Leader of the House of Commons, tells MPs that the government will bring forward measures to address the issues arising from this "shocking case".

2 June Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, says in a statement before a meeting with the heads of the FRSB, the Institute of Fundraising and the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association that he expects charities to take "thorough and swift action" in response to the Cooke case.

3 June After the meeting with Wilson, the IoF announces that it will review whether it is easy enough for people to opt out of requests for donations.

5 June The three fundraising regulatory bodies say they will appoint an independent chair to the IoF's standards committee, review the practice of charities buying and selling data and investigate the feasibility of a mystery- shopping programme across a range of fundraising methods and charities.

8 June Wilson calls on the fundraising self-regulatory bodies to take action to ensure that high-pressure donor recruitment tactics are "stamped out for good" after an investigation by The Mail on Sunday revealed several potential breaches of the Institute of Fundraising's Code of Fundraising Practice at the fundraising agencies Listen and Street Academy. See Talking Points

9 June The FRSB issues an interim report on the Cooke case, which calls on the IoF to revise its Code of Fundraising Practice to limit the number of charity approaches each year and change in the code the word "ought" to "must". It also says a reference to fundraisers being able to use "reasonable persuasion" should be removed.

11 June William Shawcross, chair of the Charity Commission, tells a conference in London that the Olive Cooke case is a "crisis for the charity sector". See Talking Points

The IoF says after a meeting of its standards committee that it will adopt the FRSB's recommendation that the word "ought" in its code should be changed to "must" and that charities will be expected to standardise the statements they use to allow people to opt out from receiving communications.

16 June Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, says that the self-regulation of funding is "not working in its current form" and the Institute of Fundraising should consider relinquishing control of the Code of Fundraising Practice. See Talking Points

19 June Wilson tells the PFRA annual conference that he has given self-regulation "an opportunity to demonstrate that it can work effectively", but has warned that the window "may not remain open much longer".


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