Pell & Bales U-turn on phone calls to lapsed supporters

Telephone fundraising agency announces immediate end to 'administrative' calls to those who have asked not to be contacted

Telephone fundraising agency Pell & Bales has changed its policy over contacting supporters to check whether they still do not want to be contacted.

The change was prompted by a request from Third Sector to comment on a statement from the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) that it would be concerned if organisations were making such calls.

Karl Holweger, the company's chief executive, told a conference last week that it was legitimate to call people who had earlier asked not to be contacted, provided that it was made clear that the call was an "administrative" one.

Holweger told a masterclass at the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands last week that about two-thirds of such calls resulted in people changing their minds. He said 8 per cent of the people contacted objected to it.

After Third Sector Online reported his remarks, which attracted a large number of comments from readers, he issued a lengthy statement explaining and justifying the practice.

But yesterday the statement was withdrawn and replaced with one that apologised for what he had said at the conference and pledged that the company would immediately stop the practice he had described.

The revised statement followed an email from Third Sector asking him to comment on a statement from the ICO saying it would be concerned if organisations were disguising marketing calls or characterising them as administrative.

Holweger's statement said: "I would like to apologise for suggesting in my recent IFC presentation that organisations should consider contacting lapsed supporters to confirm their preferred method of communication.

"It had been my understanding that this was compliant with Data Protection regulations and not breaking any law.

"However, if the Information Commissioner's Office is now stating that this courtesy call is breaking the law, then as chief executive of a reputable organisation I will ensure that with immediate effect we cease discussing this with our clients."

A spokeswoman for the company confirmed that he was referring to "lapsed supporters who have been marked with a ‘do not contact' flag."

An ICO spokeswoman told Third Sector: "The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations provide that individuals who have asked not to be called should not be contacted for marketing purposes.

"Organisations should not disguise marketing calls or calls intended to persuade people to agree to receive marketing calls as ‘admin' calls that would not otherwise have been made.

"We would be concerned if organisations are making these types of calls to individuals who have previously asked not to be contacted."

The ICO website summarises the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 and says in a section entitled Charities and Marketing: "You cannot make unsolicited telephone calls to an individual or organisation who has told you they do not want your calls."

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