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Fundraising From Vulnerable People

11 October 2016 at 8:20 am
Wendy Williams
A new guide has been published to help charities engage with vulnerable people while fundraising to protect public trust.

Wendy Williams | 11 October 2016 at 8:20 am


Fundraising From Vulnerable People
11 October 2016 at 8:20 am

A new guide has been published to help charities engage with vulnerable people while fundraising to protect public trust.

The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) has teamed up with the Fundraising Institute of Australia (FIA), to publish Fundraising: People in Vulnerable Circumstances, in a bid to instil good fundraising practice.

ACNC assistant commissioner of charity services David Locke told Pro Bono Australia News it was about protecting public trust and confidence

“What we don’t want is people feeling as though family members are being approached or that charities are undertaking activity that could lay them open to criticism,” Locke said.

“We think that it’s quite difficult for charities, if you are for example, sending out direct mail, or you’re phoning members of the public, how do you know really whether somebody lacks capacity to be able to give or to be able to contribute.

“So we just thought it was a good idea to try and put out some guidance, really to steer people and say look, these are some of the things that you should think about.

“It’s not saying under no circumstances can somebody who is in vulnerable circumstances, donate, but you need to show extra care.”

Locke said it was about teaching charities to look out for certain triggers.

“We already know that many charities, they get maybe approached by somebody who says, my mother lacked capacity or gave money perhaps she shouldn’t have and in those circumstances charities will normally refund the money and deal with that situation. But we don’t want to have a situation where vulnerable people feel pressured in any way to give money, or that charities are not looking for particular signs and being careful about it, so we just want to make sure that there is good practice out there,” he said.

The guide, published on Monday, outlines how charities can recognise people in vulnerable circumstances and provides suggested actions for engaging these people respectfully when fundraising.

According to the guidance a person may be considered vulnerable if their circumstances mean their capacity to make a decision is reduced.

Common examples of people in vulnerable circumstances can include people:

  • with intellectual disabilities that affect comprehension or understanding
  • with physical or mental health issues (permanent or temporary)
  • who don’t fully understand the language the fundraiser is speaking
  • experiencing financial difficulty
  • experiencing stress or anxiety (including that induced by a request for a donation)
  • under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • who are unable to care for themselves (especially those who rely on the support or care of a charity)
  • who are elderly (especially those without close support) and very young.

The guide offers steps fundraisers should take to ensure they are treating people in vulnerable circumstances fairly:

  • speak clearly, slowly and use terms that the person can understand
  • make it clear who the fundraiser is and for which charity they are collecting
  • repeat important pieces of information – particularly the consequences of a decision to donate
  • as the interaction progresses, check that the person understands and is happy to continue
  • do not put pressure on the person to make a donation – politely accept any refusals to donate without reservation
  • ask the person if they need to consult someone else about the decision
  • if seeking substantial gifts or bequests, provide an opportunity for the donor to seek advice
  • provide the person with relevant information and options for donating later so they can consider their decision in their own time.

ACNC commissioner Susan Pascoe AM said charities needed to be careful when engaging people in vulnerable circumstances.

“It is important for charity fundraisers to be able to recognise people in vulnerable circumstances and act ethically and responsibly when engaging them,” Pascoe said.

She said good fundraising practice had a positive effect on the reputations of charities and the sector as a whole.

“Many charities have built good reputations over years and decades of good work,” she said.

“They rely on these reputations for public support.

“It’s important that charity boards put in place good fundraising practice as part of running a well-governed, accountable organisation.

“When conducting fundraising – particularly when engaging with people in vulnerable circumstances – charities need to consider the public perception of their actions, and how this might affect support for their causes.”

Pascoe highlighted the guide drew on principles of good governance.

“Charity boards and committees need to consider their fundraising practices as part of charity governance,” Pascoe said.

“They should have adequate processes and checks set up to protect people in vulnerable circumstances.

“A charity’s fundraising practices should be consistent with the charity’s values, and should always treat donors and potential donors fairly and respectfully.”

FIA CEO Rob Edwards welcomed the guidance and the consultation with the ACNC.

“As the national peak body representing professional fundraising in Australia, we value collaboration with government agencies on fundraising issues,” Edwards said.

“The ACNC’s new guidance will provide registered charities with clarity of the ACNC’s view of a complex and difficult aspect of fundraising.

“We look forward to further collaboration with the ACNC and other agencies on issues of fundraising practice in Australia.”

Edwards said this latest guide was “timely” in the wake of a recent report from consumer advocacy group Choice, which claimed nuisance charity cold calls were occurring with “alarming frequency”.

“With recent attacks on our sector in the media and by special interest groups like Choice, it is timely for all members to review their day-to-day practices and to check with their suppliers to ensure that vulnerable people are treated with sensitivity,” he said.

“People in vulnerable circumstances can still have the capacity to donate, and it is important to protect their rights to contribute to civil society in this vital way. But fundraisers should keep in mind that they may need additional help or support.”

It comes after the report, Who’s On the Line, found that calls from charities, or commercial companies that represent them, were the primary source of unsolicited calls with more than 25 per cent of Australians interviewed saying they had received unwanted calls from a charity each week.

In response FIA described the report as an “unfair and unwarranted attack” on charities and said it would take the fight right up to the CHOICE boardroom.

Locke said the latest guide had been in the pipeline for a long time but the recent media coverage had pushed it to the top of the list.

“We’ve got a whole suite of fundraising guidance… that is coming on this, but I think we thought, particularly with some of the media coverage that has been going on, it was perhaps good to expedite this and try and get this out quickly to try and help charities to do the right thing,” he said.

“Our approach with all of these things… is that if we put out guidance, we think that most charities will look at that and follow that.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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