Constructive criticism: what the charity sector can learn from the Fundraising Regulator Complaints Report
13 October 2021 | By Erin Hughes
The Fundraising Regulator recently published its Complaints Report, which shares insights into the broad trends of fundraising complaints in the UK from April 2020 to March 2021. The aim of the report is to identify areas of fundraising practice which may require improvement or expertise, to help the charity sector to continue fundraising ethically and effectively.
What did the report find?
From a dataset comprised of 362 complaints directly to the Fundraising Regulator, and 17,800 complaints to charities, four key themes have been identified:
- Complaints were not significantly impacted by the pandemic, with the very small number of complaints that did relate to Covid-19 mostly covering concern about in-person fundraising at a time of social distancing
- The data reflects a shift from in-person to digital fundraising, and as such it is important for charities to think about how they will expand their digital fundraising while maintaining best practice.
- Some fundraising methods are more unpopular than others: prime examples are charity bags and addressed mail. Charities should take particular care to mitigate the risks when using these methods.
- Good fundraising has prevailed through times of crisis. Despite unprecedented circumstances and challenges, overall good fundraising practice has prevailed, as the number of complaints continues to fall.
What can charities learn from the report?
Looking at these four key themes and the overarching report, there are significant lessons to be learnt by the charity sector: not just in avoiding complaints, but in maximising fundraised income and ensuring positive perceptions of a charity.
- Listen to your donors: every year, charity bags are the most complained about method of fundraising to the Fundraising Regulator, with 105 complaints in 2020/21. This is notable as these mostly raise complaints when a household has made it known that they do not want to receive bags.
Make sure that when you receive a request or information from a donor, it is properly noted to inform future contact. This includes requests to not contact an individual – such as not sending charity bags – but could also be them informing you of their interest in a particular area of your work. Building a better understanding of your donors, and respecting their preferences about contact, will increase donations in the long run.
- Be transparent: in the last year, digital fundraising has become more important than ever, and with this increase in popularity came a rise in complaints. Complaints about digital fundraising were largely that communications were misleading, with a misrepresentation of the cause or what the funds would be spent on.
Across all fundraising, it is vital that charities are clear about the purpose of fundraising, and where donations will go. It can be easy for charities to unknowingly restrict funds raised through a campaign due to wording that focusses on one area of need or programme of activity, and so it should be made explicit in fundraising where funds will be for general purposes.
Using a central Case for Support, ensure that everyone who fundraises for your charity (including staff, Trustees and volunteers) has access to clear and compelling messaging, evidence, and an up-to-date list of fundraising asks. This will empower your team to better communicate with donors and minimise the risk of misrepresentation through confusion or out of date understanding.
- Keep up to date with GDPR: a common complaint to the Fundraising Regulator arose when individuals had been contacted by an organisation they had no previous relationship with, and were concerned how their details had been obtained and on what grounds the organisation was contacting them.
Across every method of fundraising, charities should have a clear rationale for how they store data and why they are making contact. Although your practice may have evolved in the four years since GDPR was introduced, up to date processes should be formalised in a data policy and an internal standard of practice that is followed by everyone involved in fundraising.
- Invest in training and processes: Fundraising should be a whole team activity and as such, it is important that everyone is given the training and support they need to fundraise effectively and legally.
Make sure that you run regular sessions for the staff team, Trustees and any fundraising volunteers; and that the induction of new staff introduces them to key processes, duties and legal requirements. As well as reducing complaints or breaches of the Code of Fundraising Practice, regular sessions will increase engagement with fundraising and embed a culture of whole-team involvement.
Additionally, all charities need to have a complaints process set up that is clear and accessible, and that leads to thorough investigation when complaints are made. Complaints may well happen – what is important is how an organisation learns from them and puts things right going forwards. When complaints are investigated, put improvement plans in place and feedback learning to everyone involved in fundraising and consider specialist training if required.
Read the full report here.
Have you ever received a complaint around fundraising? If you have, what did you learn; or if not, what can you take away from this sector report? Let us