Complaints about online fundraising increased by 252% during the pandemic

Complaints about online fundraising increased by 252% during the pandemic

At the height of the pandemic, online fundraising became the most complained about method of fundraising. The Fundraising Regulator’s latest Annual Complaints Report reveals from April 2020 to March 2021, 56 of the UK’s largest fundraising charities reported 5,836 complaints about it, to the regulator – a 252% increase on the previous year’s figures.

Online fundraising methods include social media, charity websites and advertising banners. The increase in online and digital (email, text etc) fundraising complaints aligns with how charities had to shift their fundraising activities online during the pandemic while person-to-person contact at events, street fundraising and door-to-door fundraising were paused.

While there has been a significant increase in complaints about the method of fundraising, the number of complaints reported by charities is relatively small when compared with the level of activity carried out. The report finds that 1 in 1,886,192 impressions received a complaint.

Following the report, the Fundraising Regulator has outlined how it will focus on supporting the sector to achieve good standards of online fundraising and to understand the risks that this method can involve. This includes a review of the Code of Fundraising Practice in 2022, which will consider whether existing standards in the code related to digital fundraising are sufficient to support the sector, or whether changes are needed in this area.

Other methods of fundraising reported by charities as receiving a high number of complaints were addressed mail, with 3,687 complaints, and corporate fundraising, with 2,504 complaints. These were the second and third most complained about methods respectively.

Despite the steep increase in complaints about online fundraising, the report also finds that the total number of complaints received by the sample charities was down during the pandemic. In 2021, 17,800 complaints were received, which is down by 4% on last year’s figure.

The most common cause of complaint across all fundraising methods we received was misleading information – which could involve unclear claims about why donations are needed or how they will be spent, or a failure to present information that allows the donor to make an informed decision.

Chief executive, Gerald Oppenheim, said: “The Annual Complaints Report provides us with a really important overview of how the fundraising landscape has changed over the past year. This report is an early indicator of the impact of the pandemic on the charity sector and it is a vital tool to help us understand where the sector needs to improve its fundraising practices.

“It is encouraging to see that the overall number of complaints about charitable fundraising continued to decline during the pandemic, which shows that good fundraising practice has prevailed at a time of unprecedented challenges for the sector.

“We will continue to work closely with charities to support them in some of the areas the report has identified – particularly in relation to online fundraising – and make sure both charities and the public are equipped with the tools to fundraise, and donate, safely.”