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National Deaf Children’s Society and Smile Fundraising Ltd: March 2020

Name and type of organisation/s: National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) (registered charity no. 1016532), and its agency Smile Fundraising Ltd (SMILE)

Fundraising method: Face-to-face fundraising

Code themes examined: Fundraiser behaviour, complaints handling and third-party monitoring

Code breach? 

  • NDCS: Yes
  • SMILE: No

The complaint

The complainant told us that a fundraiser from SMILE Fundraising Ltd (SMILE – the agency), fundraising on behalf of the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS – the charity) was behaving inappropriately. The complainant told us that after complaining to the charity about the fundraiser’s behaviour, they remained unhappy with its response.

What happened?

The complainant told us that they were sitting in their front garden smoking a cigarette when they saw a fundraiser knocking on their neighbour’s front door. They said that they watched the fundraiser flex their muscles while waiting for the door to be answered. The complainant said that they told the fundraiser they would not be able to donate as they were disabled and on a reduced income. They said the fundraiser remarked in response that they should not be smoking.

The complainant said that shortly after the encounter they telephoned the charity to make a complaint. The charity said that it would investigate their concerns and contact them.

The charity contacted the agency and asked that it investigate the complainant’s concerns. However, based on the limited information provided, the agency told the charity that its investigation was inconclusive.

The complainant telephoned the charity again as they had not received a response after three weeks. The charity said it had attempted to contact them by telephone, but had been unsuccessful. The charity told them that no disciplinary action had been taken against the fundraiser. The complainant was unhappy with this outcome and explained to us that the staff member on the call refused to give their name or explain how they could escalate their concerns. The charity also refused to engage with a representative of the complainant due to data protection concerns.

When we forwarded the complaint to the charity, it apologised for the delay in responding to the complainant’s original concerns but confirmed that as the complainant had only left a telephone number it had attempted to deliver the outcome of its investigation by telephone. The charity also explained that, given the complainant had suggested going to the press, its member of staff felt uncomfortable providing their name when this was requested by the complainant, but then failed to signpost details for escalation.

The charity told us that it does not record incoming telephone calls to its supporter care team but was able to provide system notes to evidence the conversation.

The agency’s investigation into the complaint showed that two fundraisers matched the complainant’s description and both were interviewed but denied the allegations. The agency said that it spoke to both fundraisers about expected behaviour before they were allowed to fundraise again.

Our decision

On the basis of the conflicting information provided, we were unable to determine if the agency breached the respectful principle of the Code of Fundraising Practice (the code) and a rule within the door-to-door rulebook (which was effective at the time this complaint was made).

We found that when we referred the complaint to the charity it responded promptly, addressing the concerns raised, and provided the complainant with further details should they wish to escalate their concerns. However, during the original telephone call when the complainant clearly expressed his dissatisfaction, these details were not provided.

We also found that the charity only attempted to deliver the outcome of its investigation on one day by telephone and when the complainant subsequently contacted the charity it would not engage with their representative. On this basis, we found that the charity failed to respond appropriately to the complaint.

We found that the complaint did not arise as the result of the charity failing to properly monitor its agency. Therefore, the charity did not breach the section of the code that relates to the monitoring of third parties.

Recommendations

We recommended that the charity:

  • review what information its supporter care team record following interactions with complainants to ensure that the records accurately reflect the conversations that have taken place; and
  • review the learning from how it dealt with this complaint to improve its complainant handling.

Outcome

We asked that the charity writes to us within one month of the date of our final decision to outline the action it has taken in response to our recommendations.