Poppy Sellers death highlights need for greater regulation of fundraising activities

Following the tragic death of 92-year-old poppy seller Olive Cooke, there have been growing demands in the press and on the political scene for greater regulation and changes in the way that the Fundraising Standards Board operates and monitors charities in respect of their fundraising activities.

The Fundraising Standards Board is regulator of charity fundraising in the UK and its member charities and professional fundraisers agree as a condition of their membership to adhere to its codes (the Fundraising Promise) and the Institute of Fundraising Code of Fundraising Practice. 

The charities sector is reported to be worth £60bn in the UK and charities work continuously hard to develop new fundraising initiatives. 

In reporting the death of Olive Cooke, some sections of the media claimed that in the lead up to her death she had been receiving a very high volume of calls and communications from charities requesting donations and suggested a link between this activity and her depression and insomnia which led to her suicide.  No formal evidence of this has been presented, however, the Government is calling for tougher controls to regulate charities soliciting donations from the public to prevent vulnerable people from being exploited or put under undue pressure. 

The proposed new rules will require all professional fundraisers to set out in their agreements with charities what steps they are taking to protect vulnerable people from high pressure tactics and how the charities will monitor compliance. This means that fundraisers, such as call centres and street fundraisers, will have to set out in a legally-binding agreement the steps they are taking to protect the vulnerable, and will also be monitored during their operations.

The proposed new regulations will only affect charities with incomes over £1 million.  Presumably this is because is it primarily larger charities which adopt the type of  public facing fundraising tactics criticised  in some of the publicity surrounding Olive Cooke's death.  It is proposed that such charities will have to set out their fundraising approaches in their annual trustees' reports, including their use of professional fundraising agencies - as well as taking steps to prevent inappropriate fundraising from vulnerable people. These changes will be introduced to the Draft Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill as it goes through Parliament.

We are tracking the progress of the Bill and will report on further developments in due course. 

Irrespective of whether the claims that some charities' apparently "excessive" fundraising tactics contributed to Olive Cooke's depression and insomnia have any foundation - the case reminds charities and their trustees of the importance of monitoring and reviewing their fundraising activities and of providing adequate training to employees and volunteers.   Any negative publicity surrounding a charity's fundraising tactics could be extremely damaging to the charity's reputation and future ability to fundraise and fulfil its aims.  It also demonstrates the importance of charities supporting self-regulation through considering membership of the Fundraising Standards Board and adhering to the Institute of Fundraising's Code of Fundraising Practice.  The Government has deemed self-regulation to have "failed" in this instance and is proposing to introduce new regulations to tackle what it perceives to be a major problem.   No Cold Calling Zones should always be observed and charities should have complaints handling systems in place to deal with any public complaints about their fundraising activities and provide training to employees and volunteers to ensure that potentially vulnerable people are not targeted.  

Posted on: 23/07/2015

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

Back to News articles
Back to News articles

Sign up to email news

Sign up to receive email updates and regular legal news from Rollits LLP.

Sign up