The Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) has been forced to throw out a complaint about RSPB marketing activity due to insufficient evidence after the charity failed to keep any records of the complaint.
The regulator described the lack of evidence about the way the RSPB handled the complaint as ‘unacceptable’ and instructed the charity to keep relevant records in future.
The complainant, who was contacted by a telephone fundraiser acting on behalf of the RSPB and asked if he wished to increase his existing direct debit donation, informed the RSPB that he wished to be removed from the charity’s ‘marketing list’.
He subsequently called the RSPB to complain about the call and put his concerns into an email. The RSPB promptly removed him from its telephone marketing list, but not from its mailing list.
When the complainant received a mailing from the charity six months later asking him again to increase his direct debit donation, he complained a second time, cancelled his regular donation to the charity and contacted the FRSB to escalate his complaint.
The charity apologised to the complainant, stating that there had been a misunderstanding over which communications the complainant did not wish to receive and an administrative error in failing to remove the complainant from all future marketing lists, not just the telephone.
The charity’s chief executive also contacted the complainant, apologising and confirming that the charity’s records had been amended to prevent further marketing contact.
However, the FRSB’s ability to determine whether the charity had breached the regulations was hindered due to a lack of evidence as to whether the request to be removed from all marketing approaches had been clearly communicated. The charity informed the FRSB that it does not retain records of communications with its supporters due to ‘limited storage capacity’.
The FRSB instructed the RSPB to retain all communications relating to future complaints in line with the FRSB Complaints Process – A Member’s Guide, which stipulates that member charities must keep “all relevant emails, letters and details of any phone conversations” relating to complaints.
FRSB chair Andrew Hind said: “It is entirely unacceptable for a charity not to retain adequate records on supporter communication or contact preferences, particularly in relation to any dialogue that may be pertinent to a complaint and that restricts our ability to investigate.
“In this case, we recognise that the complainant and charity both have a different view on how the complainant’s contact preferences were communicated, but it is impossible to determine if there has been a Code breach without the necessary evidence trail.
“We recognise that the RSPB apologised for any inconvenience caused and amended part of its contact records as soon as the complaint was first raised, but we urge the charity to urgently review its record keeping for the future.
“All charities should clearly document any complaint communication and take steps to ensure that they fully understand the contact preferences of their donors.”
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