Ethical fundraising : Protecting vulnerable adults from aggressive fundraising techniques

Dr Lee-Ann Fenge

Dr Lee-Ann Fenge

There is growing awareness in the government and media of the importance of recognising and responding to the risks posed by financial abuse of vulnerable older people. My last two blogs have focused on financial scams and mass marketing fraud, but it is now becoming recognised that the charity sector are also employing dubious marketing techniques to elicit money from vulnerable individuals.

The marketing techniques and fundraising methods of charities have come under the spotlight since the death of Olive Cooke, 92, in May. Although her family insist that the numerous approaches she received from charities were not to blame for her death, the fact that she received 267 charity letters in one month alone started alarm bells ringing. Some charities working with emotionally upsetting issues (such as animal cruelty) sometimes employ shocking imagery which has been described as psychoactive advertising (Bennett, 2015). These types of marketing approaches seek to evoke a positive emotional response to fundraising, but can be upsetting for those who receive such material through the post.
As a result of governmental concern about the fundraising methods employed by some charities, changes will be
introduced as amendments to the Charities Bill. This new legislation will tighten rules on how fundraisers approach people who are vulnerable, and how vulnerable adults should be protected from high-pressure marketing tactics.

Some charities have already responded to these concerns by suspending operations with call centres which use
high pressure fundraising techniques.It is interesting to note that although the government is seeking to put a brake on aggressive fundraising techniques, this comes at a time when the remit of the Charity Commission to effectively regulate the sector has been reduced due to budget reductions following the UK Treasury’s Comprehensive Spending Review 2014–15. This has resulted in a reduction in the Commission’s regulatory engagement with charities. As part of the government response to concerns about unethical fundraising tactics, Sir Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), will chair an urgent review of fundraising self-regulation.

It is important that the charity sector develop good practice guidance which embraces the responsibility to safeguard vulnerable groups, and put an end to working with companies which use aggressive fundraising techniques.

The National Centre for Post-Qualifying Social Work at BU is currently working collaboratively with the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) to develop good practice guides and advice for professionals working with vulnerable citizens and their families/carers about responding to the risks posed by financial scams. We will be hosting an event as part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science on 10th November to explore with the sector how we develop better responses to safeguarding those most at risk of financial exploitation. Details of how to book onto this event will be posted in the near future.


Bennett, R. (2015) Individual characteristics and the arousal of mixed emotions: consequences for the effectiveness of charity fundraising advertisements, International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing 20: 188–209