Name and type of organisation: Hospitals Charity (registered charity no. 1185161)
Fundraising method: Private site fundraising, digital donation pages
Code themes examined: Restricted donations, treating donors fairly, misleading information, third-party fundraisers, complaint handling process
Code breach? Yes
The Fundraising Regulator received ten complaints about Hospitals Charity (the charity) between January 2021 and November 2021 from members of the public, donors, representatives of NHS trusts and others in positions linked to the NHS. We were concerned by the number of complaints received within a relatively short time period and the similarities of the issues raised, including:
- the charity was claiming to raise money for the NHS without having any formal agreement in place with the NHS, and using NHS logos without permission
- it had wrongly led donors to believe that their donation would benefit a specific local hospital
- it had not responded to complaints or had not investigated them properly; and
- professional fundraisers working on its behalf were not providing donors with information required by law.
We examined the charity’s website. We noted several statements made:
- “Help us raise £750,000 for critical care wards in YOUR region.”
- “We are raising £750,000 for 470 hospitals in the UK.”
- “Your donations mean more equipment, beds, and PPE at a time when it is vital, helping save countless lives in your area.”
- “With your help we can raise the money we need to purchase new equipment, critical care beds and save lives in your region. Start today by donating as little as £5.”
- “Your donations go to your regional hospital where the need is greatest.”
We also received evidence from complainants, including a flyer which stated, “Every donation goes towards supporting your local hospital” and images of items that showed either the NHS Charities Together ‘blue heart’ logo, or branding which was visually very similar.
The charity initially provided us with some information about its activities. We asked for more information but did not receive any further evidence.
After we shared our draft decision outlining the potential code breaches, the charity responded to deny any breach of the Code of Fundraising Practice (the code). The charity also stated that its in-person fundraising had been an initial trial, which did not continue after national lockdown in 2020, and that funds raised were treated as restricted. We again requested that the charity provide further information to support these claims and did not receive anything.
Use of funds
The charity told donors that all funds would benefit their local hospital. Its website had featured an option (since removed) to name a specific hospital when donating. We could not find any evidence that the charity had set aside funds for any specific hospital, or recorded which donations were for which hospital. It appeared instead that all donations were pooled, and the charity made decisions about how to direct them.
We found that the charity’s statements about providing equipment and beds for critical care units were misleading. We were advised by NHS England that the nature of NHS funding means it is not possible for outside donations to pay for these.
We found that the charity had breached the code standards around ensuring funds raised for a particular purpose were used specifically for that purpose.
Informing donors and treating people fairly
The charity had changed its approach in 2021 from stating that donations would benefit particular hospitals to stating that donations would go to hospitals “in your region” and “your regional hospital where the need is greatest.” We found these misleading.
The charity showed us what donations it claimed to have made to hospitals, split into five large regions across England. Its materials did not explain to donors what was considered ‘their’ region and there was no means for online donors to specify their region.
The charity listed nine to ten hospitals in each region and donated a single fixed amount to each one. We did not see any evidence of how the charity decided which hospitals had the greatest need, or if it did so at all. We did not see any evidence that the hospitals received the donations.
We saw evidence that the charity used fundraising materials that suggested a direct working relationship between itself and the NHS and its charity partner, NHS Charities Together. These organisations have made it clear to us that this is not the case. At least one NHS trust has refused donations from Hospitals Charity. The charity removed the NHS logo from its website. However, we have seen evidence that the charity continued to use similar materials in its face-to-face fundraising.
We found that the charity had breached the code standards around making misleading statements and allowing donors to make an informed decision.
Relationship with third party fundraisers
A third-party agency carries out in-person fundraising on the charity’s behalf. We saw evidence that this agent provided training to its fundraisers about the code. It instructed fundraisers to incorrectly tell potential donors, “All of your donation goes to Hospitals Charity”.
We obtained a printed solicitation statement used by fundraisers. This stated that around £0.69 of every £1 donated went to the charity, contradicting the training material. The statement did not meet the legal requirement to show how the agency’s fee was calculated. The evidence available to us did not support the charity’s claim that it stopped using this fundraising method in 2020.
We found the charity had breached the code requirements around adequately training third-party fundraisers and giving solicitation statements.
Complaints handling process
We reviewed copies of the charity’s complaints policy and complaints log. The log was brief and not complete as it did not include some complaints that we had directly passed to the charity. The charity did not respond to requests for comment on the complaints log.
Because of the incomplete evidence and Hospitals Charity’s failure to respond to our queries directly, we could not be certain whether the charity breached the code standards around replying to complaints promptly and fairly or learning from complaints, but considered it likely it had done so.
Code sections considered
Code of Fundraising Practice, version effective 1 October 2019 (last updated 4 June 2021)
Section 1.1 General behaviour
• Standard 1.1.1: breach identified
Section 1.3 Informing donors and treating people fairly
• Standard 1.3.1: breach identified
• Standard 1.3.2: breach identified
• Standard 1.3.6: breach identified
Section 2.4. Complaints and concerns about fundraising
• Standard 2.4.1: unable to determine
• Standard 2.4.3: unable to determine
• Standard 2.4.4: unable to determine
Section 2.7. Using funds
• Standard 2.7.1: breach identified
• Standard 2.7.2: breach identified
• Standard 2.7.3: breach identified
• Standard 2.7.4: breach identified
Section 7.2 Contracts and agreements
• Standard 7.2.3: no breach identified
Section 7.3. Monitoring that fundraisers are meeting the code
• Standard 7.3.1: breach identified
Section 7.4. Solicitation (disclosure) statements for paid third-party fundraisers and commercial participators
• Standard 7.4.4: breach identified
We asked Hospitals Charity to:
- Update the solicitation statement to include how its agent’s fee is calculated.
- Update its website and fundraising materials to ensure it is not misleading donors, particularly by:
- providing a clear explanation of how its regional model of donations works; and
- ensuring its fundraising materials do not suggest it is fundraising for critical care within the NHS.
- Show us how it will manage its restricted funds, both for in-person donations and online donations.
- Have Memoranda of Understanding with any NHS hospitals or trusts it wishes to pass donations onto.
- Explain to us how it intends to develop an improved system of complaint handling which comprehensively records complaints and implements learning.
- Consider whether to refund two donations intended for specific hospitals which were not passed on, and notify us of the trustees’ decision and reasoning.
We found several serious breaches of the code. Hospitals Charity has not acknowledged these or demonstrated what actions it will take to comply with the code. We have reported its non-compliance to the Charity Commission for England and Wales.