A senior staff member at the Institute of Fundraising has expressed his disappointment with the Information Commissioner’s Office’s approach to its investigation of the RSPCA and the British Heart Foundation, suggesting that the regulator had engaged in "political point-scoring".
In an apparent reference to the statement, Daniel Fluskey, who is head of policy and research at the IoF, tweeted yesterday that it seemed "pretty (mis)leading" and a "value-judgment" to say that charities had been exploiting supporters.
In comments he stressed were his own and not necessarily those of the institute, he added that the ICO should focus on the legal basis of its findings rather than engaging in "political point-scoring".
Fluskey also commented on Third Sector’s article on the case that the IoF was disappointed with the ICO's approach.
"The tone and content of their comms seems to be more about making a particular statement about charities rather than a clear explanation of the law," he wrote.
"We know the charities are considering appealing, but seeing as the ICO haven't even released their full report yet we don't know the full details of the cases."
Fluskey added that charities were in need of much better guidance about what constituted lawful practice, "not just what they think isn't".
He wrote: "It's like being told you're driving too fast, but not what the speed limit is!"
The Institute of Fundraising as a body also appeared critical of the ICO’s approach on Twitter yesterday.
In what appeared to be a reaction to the ICO’s ruling that the use by the RSPCA and the BHF of wealth screening without their supporters’ consent was unlawful, the IoF tweeted: "By being able to understand existing supporters better and potential new donors, charities can be more cost-effective in their work, sending out tailored comms that are more likely to resonate to particular audiences/individuals, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach."
The comments are different in tone from the approach the IoF has taken towards the ICO over the past 18 months.
According to emails obtained by Third Sector earlier this year, the IoF exchanged numerous friendly emails with the regulator’s then senior policy officer Richard Marbrow over the first half of 2016.
These included asking for advice on the kinds of fundraising activities the ICO would and would not consider lawful and a discussion about the way the ICO communicated with the sector.
In an email sent to Marbrow on 20 May by an IoF representative, the body appeared to attempt to influence the way the regulator communicated about charities.
The email reads: "On the comms side – do let me know what you have in mind around this. It would be good to have an idea of when and how this issue will be communicated to the sector – and the tone will be really important too.
"For example, the difference between issuing specific guidance/direction to inform charities on their obligation under the law, compared with ‘charities found to be breaching data protection law’ creates a very different atmosphere and one we hope we could work with you to manage in the interests of all."
When the ICO announced in February that its investigation into the British Red Cross had concluded, it praised the charity for seeing the "benefits of not just following the law, but following best practice" rather than revealing the malpractices it had unearthed at the charity.
The move provoked media criticism of the regulator, with Third Sector’s editor writing in a blog at the time that the ICO should have been clear about the fundraising errors committed by the charity.
An ICO spokesman said today: "We’ve already set out how saddened donors will be that the time and money they dedicated to benefiting good causes wasn’t enough.
"We’ve always been clear that charities need to follow the rules, and that is what donors would expect. There’s guidance on our website about how to do that, including details on data sharing, direct marketing and fairly processing personal data."