Shelter: June 2021

Name and type of organisation: Shelter (registered charity no. 263710)

Fundraising method: TV advertisement

Code themes examined: Restricted donation

Code breach? Yes

The complaint

A complainant believed a television advertisement broadcast by the charity Shelter was misleading. They said that the advertisement suggested wrongly that the funds it raised were for only the Covid 19 pandemic when the aim of the advertisement was to raise money for Shelter’s general funds.

What happened?

The narrator in Shelter’s March to April 2020 Emergency Appeal television advertisement spoke from Shelter’s call centre. He said: “This is an emergency appeal from Shelter. We are currently taking a high number of calls from people worried about losing their jobs, their homes and keeping their families safe during the coronavirus outbreak. One was from a hospital worker whose landlord is trying to evict her from her home in case she catches coronavirus. Just one of the hundreds of calls we are receiving right now. Please give £10 today and help us answer as many people’s calls as possible during this difficult time. Text HOME to […] to give £10 or visit our website now. Thank you”.

Our decision

We recognise that as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic Shelter was facing additional demand for its services and was delivering urgent support to those most in need who were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. We found that the way Shelter presented the information about the Covid-19 pandemic in its advert was not misleading, so we did not uphold the specific complaint brought to us. 

However, we found that contrary to the standards in the Code of Fundraising Practice (the code), the charity had inadvertently suggested in the advertisement that donations would be spent only on the work of its helpline, when the aim of the appeal was to raise money for Shelter’s work more generally. 

The addition of a few clarifying words would have avoided the risk of breaching the code on potentially misleading people and restricted donations. For example, a short message in the script or on screen during an advertisement could say that donations would support the organisation’s general activities or make it clear the activities shown were non-exclusive examples of Shelter’s work. Were it not for the inadvertent omission of such clarification, the charity would not have breached the code in this case. 

Although the code was technically breached in relation to the risk of misleading donors and restricted funds, Shelter has spent all the funds raised by the appeal on the helpline, so no donors were misled. It follows that the breach had no adverse effect on donors.

Recommendations

We asked the charity to review its guidance on fundraising communications to take account of the standards in the code relating to restricted donations.

Outcome

The charity accepted our recommendation.