Olive Cooke case will be a watershed moment for charity fundraising, Alistair McLean says

The chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board says it has received a huge number of complaints since the death of the 92-year-old poppy seller was reported in the press

Alistair McLean
Alistair McLean

The death of the 92-year-old poppy seller Olive Cooke will be a watershed moment for charity fundraising, according to Alistair McLean, chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board.

Speaking to Third Sector about the investigation the FRSB is conducting into claims that the death earlier this month of Cooke was precipitated by an excessive amount of fundraising requests, McLean said the umbrella body had received a huge number of complaints since the death was reported in the national press, but declined to give exact numbers.

"I believe that this is a watershed for fundraising," said McLean. "There are a lot of issues that have been raised that will need carefully working through because they are very complex."

He said the complaints the FRSB had received took two different forms: general themes relating to donor data and opting in and opting out of receiving charity communications; and complaints about specific charities’ behaviour. He said in the latter case the FRSB was referring the complaints to the charities concerned to deal with them in the normal way.

McLean said the FRSB board was in the process of finalising the terms of reference of the investigation and that these would be published today or tomorrow, giving further details of what it will entail as well as timeframes. The general complaints the FRSB had received would feed into this investigation, he said.

McLean was quoted in The Daily Telegraph yesterday in an article that claimed that charities faced a ban on sharing donors’ telephone numbers and addresses among them without permission. He said that although he had been quoted accurately by the newspaper, he had not said that charities would be banned from sharing details but rather that the issue of donor consent could be covered in the FRSB’s investigation.

"I presume it was a sensational headline in the interest of making it more attractive to the reader," he said.

Cooke's granddaughter said last week that she did not believe that charities were to blame for her death. Her body was found in the Avon Gorge near the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol on 6 May. An inquest into her death was opened last week and adjourned until July.

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