Cases of aggressive and illegal marketing by charities have dominated recent news media, including the pages of specialist marketing magazine Decision Marketing.

On May 6th the body of Olive Cooke, the UK’s oldest poppy seller at 92, was found in Avon Gorge, Bristol. She was thought to have committed suicide whilst being in ill-health and depressed. However it has emerged that she had been plagued by phone and post by hundreds of different charities. Cooke told the Bristol Post last November “I have always donated to charities but as I am getting older I have been told I need to start cutting back” She then revealed that she got up to six mailings a day from charities, and “more because Christmas is coming” and added “I think the elderly are targeted with this sort of mail on purpose, as charities think they have lots of disposable money, or they might have donated in the past, but receiving so much is overwhelming”.

A few weeks after Olive Cookes death an 80-year-old man, pensioner Robert Newman revealed that he had received a letter from the £115,000 a year CEO of the Children’s Society Matthew Reed asking him for £100,000, paid as £2,777 a month for three years, to “fund a project worker”. He then received another one a few days later when he hadn’t responded, chasing him for the money. This is two years after the charity’s director of communications and policy Lily Caprani told a 2013 Parliamentary inquiry into charity marketing that her employer had “stepped away from aggressive fundraising methods, because they are less effective”. According to Reed the fault this time was with his direct marketing agency, no name revealed, who supplied a flawed list of “generous potential donors” that was then mailed by him in error. Reed has apologised for his charity’s mistakes.

The advice from Alistair Mclean, CEO of charities regulator the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB), to members of the public who don’t want to be contacted by charities is to sign up for the Mailing Preference Service (MPS) and the Telephone Preference Service (TPS). However one subscriber to the TPS was telephoned by a fundraising agency, Insight CCI on behalf of Breast Cancer Campaign and wanted to know how the charity had obtained her number. The charity firstly refused to take responsibility for their campaign, telling her to contact Insight CCI and then the list broker who had supplied the number. Finally the complainant contacted the FRSB, which launched an investigation. This has revealed that the complainant’s details were supplied by Indian firm Dynaxon IT Services, via list broker PDV, from a telephone lifestyle survey. This survey, says the FRSB potentially breached data and electronic marketing laws, as did Insight CCI’s call to the complainant and added that claims made on behalf of the Breast Cancer Campaign for its contribution to the breast cancer survival rate could not be substantiated.

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