In defence of (some) telephone fundraising

Like many other charities, CPRE engages in telephone fundraising. Indeed, it is our most effective method of recruiting new members and asking existing members to upgrade their contributions. We cannot afford newspaper or billboard advertising; we do not do street fundraising (‘chugging’); and other face-to-face fundraising has, like direct mail, proved too expensive to be justifiable.

Without telephone fundraising, CPRE would find it much harder to recruit members and raise money. Consequently, we would be less able to achieve our charitable purpose of protecting and improving the countryside for the benefit of the nation.

But telephone fundraising is now under the spotlight, and not just because most people are sometimes irritated by phone calls from salespeople or their automated machines (if the firm that keeps ringing me about my accident at work is reading this: please stop calling, I haven’t had an accident at work). The criticisms of charity fundraising are much more serious, with allegations of charities preying on vulnerable people. A series of articles in the Daily Mail has uncovered fundraising practices that, in the words of the NCVO chief executive Sir Stuart Etherington, ‘have shocked not just the public, but also many people who work for charities’.

The Government now plans to legislate and it is consulting the sector on what sort of regulation is necessary to stamp out bad practice. This is as it should be. No one should condone the harassment of vulnerable people, and it is the more obscene if charities are engaging in such harassment.

But moral panic followed by a rush to legislate rarely leads to sound laws. Charities have been under attack for some time (I wrote about the issue last August) and the sector is demoralised. Unused to being so distrusted, it is in danger of forgetting (to quote Sir Stuart again) that ‘charity fundraising has never been more important… We cannot afford to jeopardise charities’ fundraising now or in the future.’ From CPRE’s perspective, current proposals from the Institute of Fundraising and the Fundraising Standards Board, of which CPRE is a member, would do just that.

One proposal is that charities should not call people registered with the Telephone Preference Centre (TPS) even if they have given us their phone number. Currently we do not automatically exclude CPRE members who are registered with the TPS from phone calls about their membership. Over 90% of members we speak to renew their membership, and 25-30% upgrade their gift.

We check during the call that members are happy to be rung, and those who do not wish to be called are not called again. Less than one in a hundred complain about being called and we do not believe that our calls are causing our members concern. Both CPRE’s Chair and I have listened to recordings of the calls (before the recent furore) and members of our fundraising team have monitored many more. We are satisfied that the calls are carried out in a highly professional and considerate way.

Calls asking supporters to join CPRE (people who have taken part in online campaigns or made donations, for instance) are also not currently TPS screened. If we are not able to call them, we will lose 70-80% of our contacts, reducing both our income and our membership. We do not believe that there is a significant difference in results between those who are registered with the TPS and those who are not, which suggests that our calls do not cause great concern to those registered with the TPS.

It is dangerous to extrapolate from personal experience, but I am registered with the TPS and never think my privacy has been breached if I am called by an organisation to whom I have given my number. If I had an objection to being called, I would not give my number.

Telephone fundraising is vital to recruiting and developing CPRE members. We receive very few complaints have received none about calling TPS-registered supporters. We use the medium responsibly and honour supporters’ preferences wherever given.

The proposed restrictions are an understandable reaction to recent revelations, but if adopted they will do less to protect vulnerable people than to damage good causes. CPRE is committed to fundraising responsibly and has extraordinary loyalty from its supporters, but the proposed changes would significantly restrict our ability to protect our precious countryside for everyone’s benefit. The sector must listen to criticism and make improvements, but it should make sensible improvements, not panic measures which will undermine charities’ effectiveness without good reason.


1 Response to “In defence of (some) telephone fundraising”

  1. 1 geoff lambert July 20, 2015 at 2:13 pm

    A good response from one of those benefitting from the current situation. simple fact is many charities and those they pay to undertake this work are abusing the situation. you highlight the positives of what happens now but it takes a national newspaper to point out the negatives. Telephone fundraising is now a dirty word and a dirty process. We should stop it completely.

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