The row over charities’ use of wealth screening services continues to dog the Information Commissioner’s Office after a leading figure in the industry branded the regulator’s recent ruling “distressing and ridiculous”, insisting rich donors would support the practice.
The issue dates back to December last year, when the ICO ruled that the NSPCC and British Heart Foundation wealth screening operations were illegal.
The move sparked accusations that Commissioner Elizabeth Denham was cosying up to the Daily Mail because wealth screening was an established and legitimate practice. However, the regulator was quick to dismiss this argument, insisting that the practice was not illegal per se, it was charities’ failure to gain the right consent that was the issue.
At the time Denham said: “Let me be clear. It’s not that the activity is against the law but failing to properly and clearly tell your donors that you’re going to do it. Wealth screening, at least how we have seen it being done, is not fair.”
But now a director of the Centre for Philanthropy – one of the UK’s leading centres for philanthropy research, teaching and public engagement – has told an Institute of Fundraising Conference that high value donors would actually support wealth screening.
Beth Breeze claimed that the ICO’s views were unlikely to be shared by rich donors, citing previous research which found that 68% of major donors believed it was important for fundraisers to do their research before approaching them to avoid wasting their time.
She added: “I was very engaged in 2012 when the Government proposed a cap on major donations, and it was very nice to see how often the donors were on the side of the fundraisers and the charities. They see themselves as partners, not as adversaries that are being interfered with. If that experience is anything to go by, I think there are more allies out there than we realise.
“These are generous people who want to give. But they’re busy wealth creating, so they want you to help them find those causes and get on with it. I wouldn’t imagine they want a lot of letters. Fundraisers play a crucial role in developing relationships and creating contexts in which generous people can be generous.”
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