Name and type of organisation: Inside Success Union CIC (registered company no. 10174759)
Fundraising method: Street fundraising
Code themes examined: Pressurised fundraising, dealing with vulnerable donors, fundraising licenses, causing an obstruction
Code breach? Yes
Over a 24-month period the Fundraising Regulator received 15 complaints from members of the public about the fundraising activity of the Community Interest Company, Inside Success Union, a social enterprise that works with 16-24 years olds to create a digital interactive magazine which develops life skills and employment. All the complaints focussed on interactions with Inside Success Union (ISU) employees on the streets of London. The recurring themes within these complaints were:
- groups of young men surrounding members of the public, intimidating them into making donations
- groups of young men causing obstructions near the entryway to a train station or on public roads
- employees approaching and intimidating young people (aged under 18) into donating money; and
- the negative behaviour of the employee when the person declined to donate.
In general, most complaints were made by the person approached by ISU or, where the individual was under 18 years old, by the young person’s parents.
In most cases, irrespective of age, concerns were expressed about undue pressure being placed on the person to donate.
In January 2021, we wrote to ISU about two similar complaints we had received and asked if it engaged in charitable fundraising. The company informed us that it was a social enterprise that raises funds by selling magazines and that it does not fundraise or collect donations. It said that its staff were acting as newsvendors, not fundraisers.
We initially considered the information that ISU provided to our regulatory enquiries as sufficient evidence that it was not engaging in charitable fundraising. We understood that staff members had made mistakes, and that ISU had measures in place to prevent them recurring.
Based on that information, the activity complained about would not be within our regulatory remit, and so we took no further action at that time. However, we continued to receive similar complaints suggesting that ISU’s employees were in fact fundraising, and therefore decided to investigate further.
From the complaints we received there is little information to confirm that ISU was only selling magazines. Instead, the complaints as described to us indicated that its employees were carrying out street fundraising without the appropriate licenses and permissions. On that basis we consider that ISU has breached the sections of the Code of Fundraising Practice (the code) that relate to carrying out fundraising in a legal and open way, and having the appropriate licences or permits.
In most of the complaints, we found a recurring theme that members of the public felt that ISU employees placed undue pressure on people to donate. None of the complainants indicated they had been pressured to buy a magazine or sign up to a subscription; only to donate.
In addition to this, several complainants reported being approached by more than one employee, found their pathway barred, and continued to be approached once they had indicated that they were not interested. Based on the number of complaints describing very similar interactions between the public and ISU employees, we found that the company breached the code in relation to applying undue pressure and causing obstructions to the public.
Despite ISU having a policy with explicit instructions to staff not to sell to people who are aged under 18, the complaints brought to us suggested some employees were not acting in line with this policy. It is understandable that the parents of under 18s would consider that their child may be more vulnerable or feel more pressure to donate due to their age. However, based on the limited information we have about the individuals concerned, we were unable to determine if ISU breached the section of the code that relates to vulnerability.
Code sections considered
Code of Fundraising Practice, version effective 1 October 2019 (last updated 4 June 2021)
- Standard 1.1.1: breach identified
- Standard 1.2.1: breach identified
- Standard 1.2.2: breach identified
- Standard 1.3.7: unable to determine
- Standard 8.1.1: breach identified
- Standard 8.1.2: breach identified
- Standard 8.2.1: breach identified
We recommended that:
- ISU’s company directors review the learning from this investigation and consider how it intends to proceed with its funding model to prevent further breaches of the code.
- Should ISU decide to continue with street fundraising, it carries out a complete review and updates all its policies and procedures accordingly, in line with the code.
Inside Success did not initially acknowledge or engage with our draft or final investigation decision. It has since restated to us that its model is to sell magazines and not to seek donations. It told us it is making improvements to its training and monitoring to ensure that its staff do not engage in fundraising. It explained that any staff found to be doing this will be suspended and retrained.
We are sharing our final decision with the relevant licensing bodies – the Office of the Regulator of Community Interest Companies, the London Councils, the Local Government Association, and the Metropolitan Police.