Charities rebut accusations of wrongdoing after fundraising privacy exposé

A number of charities have defended their fundraising and privacy practices despite an investigation uncovering possible unlawful and unethical behaviour.

Charities: under pressure over fundraising techniques and data use
Charities: under pressure over fundraising techniques and data use

Yesterday, the Daily Mail revealed that 87-year-old pensioner and dementia sufferer Samuel Rae was contacted hundreds of times by charities and his details were sold to unscrupulous third parties, which ultimately scammed him out of £35,000.

Charities named in the investigation included the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), National Deaf Children’s Society along with People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), Worldwide Cancer Research and Cancer Recovery.

Three out of the six charities that were accused of aggressive fundraising tactics and, in some cases, of selling personal information responded to PRWeek’s requests for comment and defended their actions.

The PDSA was reported to have contacted Rae more than 270 times and also said to have sold his details ten times. In a 420-word statement, the charity said it was "saddened and disappointed" to find out Rae had been the victim of fraud. It confirmed to PRWeek that six telephone calls were made to Rae over an 18-year period.

"Mr Rae had a long-standing relationship with PDSA that started in 1994, at which point he did not ask to opt out of any third-party communications. We are very grateful for his support which has helped us to provide important veterinary care for sick and injured pets. Subsequently, in 2004, Mr. Rae asked us not to share his details with outside organisations and we complied immediately with his wishes," the charity stated.

"PDSA takes data protection extremely seriously and we are very careful to respect supporters’ wishes about how we interact with them and use their details."

The PDSA did not deny sharing data, but claimed that it proactively decided to stop trading personal details of supporters "over two years ago".

"Any data sharing in which PDSA engaged in the past was done in good faith, working with recognised agencies. We were part of the Direct Marketing Association’s List Warranty Register scheme under which, in line with industry best practice, we only shared details with other commercial or charitable organisations participating in the scheme through recognised agencies."

The NDCS was not accused of selling data, but was reported to have contacted Rae on 21 occasions. It does not dispute this figure, but claims that the majority of these interactions were via a quarterly newsletter and only one phone call was involved.

"Mr Rae became a supporter of NDCS in 2008. We are confident he was always treated with respect by NDCS and never put under undue pressure. We have never shared Mr Rae's contact details to be used by other charities or companies," the charity told PRWeek.

An IFAW spokesperson stated: "The article alleges we had 219 contacts with the supporter. It is important to note that our contact with this supporter was over a 20-year period."

"We make every effort to honour our supporters’ wishes as to how we contact them. We are investigating the allegation that we continued to contact this supporter after he asked us not to contact him."

The animal charity went on to say that it adheres to all the laws and that it strives to "retain the respect and trust" of supporters.

Worldwide Cancer Research, Cancer Recovery and the Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation had not responded at the time of writing.

Wider implications

The investigation increases the pressure for reform of charity fundraising regulations. In a statement, the Charity Commission - which does not regulate fundraising as it is self-regulated - said the story raised serious concerns about fundraising practices and use of personal data of vulnerable people.

"Public confidence in charities requires that these allegations be investigated swiftly. Meanwhile, we hope the review of self-regulation of fundraising due to report shortly will recommend action to improve the regulation of fundraising and protect public trust and confidence in charities," the commission said.

The findings have also attracted the attention of the Information Commissioner’s Office, which has launched an investigation. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, ICO commissioner Christopher Graham said it was irrelevant that Rae may have forgotten to tick a box in 1994 to prevent an organisation from sharing his personal details with third parties.

This is the latest revelation in a list of scandals to hit the UK charity sector during 2015. Kids Company was forced to close weeks after it was awarded £3 million by the Government amid accusations of financial mismanagement. Founder Camila Batmanghelidjh has since worked with 6 Hillgrove for media advice to help rescue her reputation.

Fundraising firm GoGen also closed its doors after the suicide of 92-year-old poppy-seller Olive Cooke triggered an investigation. GoGen was said to have been exploiting loopholes in the Telephone Preference Service in soliciting donations.

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