back to article ICO fines 11 big charities over dirty data donor-squeezing deeds

Eleven charities have been fined by the UK's Information Commissioner's Office for their dodgy dealings with donors' personal data. Over the last two years, an ICO investigation into fundraising has found a number of charities operating in breach of the Data Protection Act. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to …

  1. tiggity Silver badge

    Barely a slap on the wrist

    The logic seems to be that charity = money for good causes so tiny fine for privacy abuses to not significantly affect cash for good causes.

    However, that means no real incentive to prevent further abuse in future (most likely effect is the charities will just be more careful of avoiding being caught)

    Ironically a lot of charity efforts for extra funding are counter productive, I'm member of RSPB (& donate more than individual membership amount) & pleas for extar cash for various campaigns are quite irritating - I have factored in what charity donations I can afford to make to various charities and that's not going to change (only likely change is reduced donations to more irritating charities)

    On same topic, SO is NSPCC regular signed up contributor, their begging letters go in the bin as they have images of distressed children on - the sort of thing SO donates to prevent & does not particularly want to be seeing / thinking about over breakfast when mail arrives

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Pleas for extra

      I agree with you on the pleas for extra money from charities you already donate to. Not that long ago I had to issue an ultimatum to one charity that I donate to, that if they phoned me one more time asking for extra for some appeal or another, then the direct debit would be cancelled and they'd not see another penny from me.

      Looking into the layers between me and the final recipient of my donations - I'm thinking especially of the fairly big business of professional fund-raisers that are contracted in by charities - it starts to make me feel a bit uncomfortable.

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: Pleas for extra

        Charities spend FAR TOO MUCH on fundraising.

        There was one evening around my area where no less than six charities all turned up at the door. Many with large teams of people, in branded vans, in branded clothes, knocking on every house, asking for "donations" (monthly only, we don't want your one-off rubbish) and I had:

        - One guy who gave the spiel on the doorstep for 10 minutes, but then I said I would NOT be giving him a piece of paper with my bank details on for him to take away. I asked for the online signup instead, and would have done it at the door with him. He literally walked away, presumably because he wouldn't get his cut.

        - One guy who got offended that I looked him up and down, read the logo on his clipboard, said "Not interested" and walked inside, to the point that he yelled at me about the charity through my front door. He was literally seconds away from me opening the door again and telling him to vacate my property in no uncertain terms with a long, loud rant as to why.

        - Three reps of the SAME charity knock on the door within a space of 2 hours. I did tell them in no uncertain terms where to go.

        - One woman who knocked, rang the doorbell, rapped on the inner door of the porch and the window WITHIN SECONDS OF EACH OTHER. I nearly flattened her as I thought the house was on fire or something.

        If you have that amount of money that you can afford to pay people rude enough to do that, presumably on a regular basis in many areas of London simultaneously, then you can stop worrying about my donation and use the admin salary and sales commissions cuts those people are receiving to fund you in my absence.

        My girlfriend signed up for one and also got abused by them - junk mail constantly, follow-up calls, emails, etc. Never again, basically.

        I do NOT remember this kind of stuff happening when I was a kid. Charity collections were non-hassling, not en-masse, and I was always willing to drop the loose change in the pot. But now they hassle you in the street, follow you down the street yabbing, try to "talk science" with my girlfriend (a geneticist at a famous London hospital) about why should donate to cure genetic diseases at that same hospital and they DO NOT understand that she's not going to donate to her own salary just to give them a commission.

        Salesman - and sales targets - ruining everything, again.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Pleas for extra

          You must remember that the 'charity' has to keep the top managers in the way they have come to expect, very high salaries etc. And then there is the building upkeep, those high-rise buildings aren't cheep you know.

          1. The Boojum

            Re: Pleas for extra

            They are if they're in Canary Wharf.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Pleas for extra

          The business of many large charities is fundraising. Sounds obvious, but think about it. The actual cause they are raising money for is secondary (third, fourth?) to the actual job of fundraising. They strive to collect more, get bigger and this results in huge salaries for top execs, larger buildings, bigger advertising and greater publicity.

          The NSPCC for example spent ten of millions on its Full Stop campaign which many commentators doubt would have been well spent or contributed tangibly to stopping actual abuse. Overall they spend well less than 50% on directly helping their end cause. Similar with many other big charities.

          I think there should be a rating for charities, with one of the key points being what percentage of money that is given actually hits the work of the frontline.

          A large charity may say that for every £1 given they can turn that into £1.10 and therefore it is worth it. But would someone giving to a charity like the fact that for every £1 they give 30% will go to pay (sometimes huge) wages, 20% to administration, 40% to marketing etc and only 5% to helping the cause itself?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Pleas for extra

            I volunteer for Mountain Rescue. In England and Wales they have individual teams as charities collecting money that all goes towards the task of search and rescue including their equipment and essential expenses like maintenance of vehicles. Not only do the teams provide a vital emergency service that extends way beyond the mountains and they rely solely on donations* to do this, the volunteers in most (all?) teams do not get paid any expenses, have to buy much of their own personal equipment and give up their own time.

            Some teams also require their volunteers to pay a sub to cover the rental of a pager and the teas and coffees.

            Overall it cost me about £2000 to be a member in my first year and can cost me £1000 a year in fuel and kit, so that I can volunteer to help people as part of a 999 emergency service.

            Basically, it shows that some major charities can work without most of the money being swallowed by wages and funds and can operate primarily for their cause.

            http://www.cbmrt.org.uk/

            *It was only recently that the government donated some of the VAT and taxes back to the organisation after years of campaigning. Until then the teams were taxed by the government to be allowed to help them with this resource.

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Pleas for extra

            "But would someone giving to a charity like the fact that for every £1 they give 30% will go to pay (sometimes huge) wages, 20% to administration, 40% to marketing etc and only 5% to helping the cause itself?"

            Sometimes this analysis can be misleading. You need to look at what the charity delivers and how.

            I remember reading that the Samaritans had problems because of the amount that was spent on offices and phones which counted as administrative expenditure. But, of course, what Samaitans does is seat volunteers in offices at phones.

            A charity that provides medical or social care might spend most of its income on wages because paying those professionals to deliver care is what it's about.

            At the very least you'd have to separate out management expenditure.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Pleas for extra

              "But, of course, what Samaitans does is seat volunteers in offices at phones."

              Sure, but if I was grading them as a charity. The end cause is the person sitting at the phone helping people, that would be where the money should go.

              However the PCs and office space for the CEO and the marketing team would count as administration and not 'the end cause'. There isn't much of a conflict there, I would suggest.

            2. katrinab Silver badge

              Re: Pleas for extra

              No, expentiture for the offices that the counsellors work in is booked as Charitable Support Costs. Here is one Samaritans branch, look at page 8

              http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/Accounts/Ends52/0000278552_AC_20160331_E_C.PDF

              1. Lee D Silver badge

                Re: Pleas for extra

                I would expect any administrative cost to be lost in the noise of the operations of the business. Otherwise someone is doing something very wrong.

        3. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

          @ Lee D Re: Pleas for extra

          "donations" (monthly only, we don't want your one-off rubbish)

          A very good point. I got stopped by a chugger in Covent Garden last week who after a brief spiel about the charity in question streamlined straight to taking my bank details on the assumption that I wanted to donate.

          I said that I have enough regular contributions on the go, but the charity seemed like a good cause so I was happy to give them a few quid there and then as a one off. My offer was refused. They wanted monthly, ongoing donations, or nothing.

          Pretty poor PR really - a charity had someone there with cold hard cash, ready to donate, and the response was "we don't want that money".

          Would it be bad form for me to name and shame the charity here? Not sure.

          (It was Centre Point, by the way)

          1. Keith Langmead

            Re: @ Lee D Pleas for extra

            "I said that I have enough regular contributions on the go, but the charity seemed like a good cause so I was happy to give them a few quid there and then as a one off. My offer was refused. They wanted monthly, ongoing donations, or nothing."

            Because they don't work for the charity. From what I understand, most of those chuggers work for agencies which in turn work for different charities. They receive something like 10-20% of whatever you donate in the first year, so essentially they only get paid when you sign up for regular payments. That's why in future I'd much rather go direct to the charity and setup a payment than go through a chugger.

            I don't know but I suspect that's also why you often get loads of begging calls around the one year anniversary, normally from someone "on behalf of" the charity, so I wonder if they're actually calling from the chuggers, and getting you to increase your payment effectively renews their cut for another 12 months.

    2. Pete4000uk

      Re: Barely a slap on the wrist

      You get your mail before breakfast? Here it can be anywhere between 11am and 3pm

    3. The Boojum
      Joke

      Re: Barely a slap on the wrist

      "when mail arrives" and "over breakfast"

      Where do you live? The 1970s? My mail doesn't arrive 'til mid-afternoon.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Stop donating, it makes no sense.

    Would you send the CEO of Goldmans £20 per month in an envelope, telling him to spend it on something nice? Probably not.

    So why would you give to any large charity where you have no idea what your donation will be used for, and even if it'll be used for anything charitable at all? Your donation probably goes to support yet another tier of pointless middle management. After all, the last thing any cancer charity wants is a cure for cancer. And you can be sure they're working hard to make sure no cure is ever found.

    Stop donating to unaccountable charities and their overpaid managers; look after yourself and your family and friends, your pets and your environment, save something for later life, and if you have anything left after that, use it locally and use it wisely.

    1. Hollerithevo

      Re: Stop donating, it makes no sense.

      I guess we trusted them. My late father asked me to donate the sale of his furniture etc to the BHF. It turned out to be a substantial amount, and now presumably is included in the fine this charity has paid to ICO. I could simply have made a donation to ICO.

      It's why I give to very small charities who are run by the same people who do the actual work.

      1. paulf
        Thumb Up

        Re: Stop donating, it makes no sense.

        I think this is the best way - support small local charities as they're are usually run on a shoe string, the benefits they generate are tangible around the area they operate in and you can have reasonable certainty your money is going to the "Doing" department, rather than the "Executive and Marketing" Departments.

        I work for (and support) a local charity where we're all volunteers. Every penny we scrape together goes into funding our charitable activities which involve many personal expenses and long hours. People are usually impressed when they see what we do, and what we achieve with what we've got.

        The only big charity I support is Dogs Trust. Like the others they have an active marketing budget (big enough to fund telly adverts) but they tend to avoid those harrowing adverts used by some of their peers. Also I don't give them money - every so often I show up at one of their rehoming centres with several cases of decent dog food and treats so I'm certain it's going to be enjoyed by the Dogs they look after rather than adding to the CEO's £140k salary, pension and benefits package.

    2. Swarthy
      Stop

      Re: Stop donating, it makes no sense.

      My philosophy is that if I have ever heard of a charity (other than being involved with their cause and hearing about them from the community) then I will not donate to them; as that means they have been promoting and advertising, and have crossed the line from charity to tax-free self promoters.

      It happens (eventually) to almost all of 'em. They stop raising money to do good, and switch to doing good to raise money.

  3. PaulAb

    The reason is.........

    Seems like some coal face workers are being paid just above the living wage, whilst others..............

    https://www.guidedogs.org.uk/aboutus/guide-dogs-organisation/executive-remuneration#.WOUCNWfatQI

    Seems like some like to reward themselves more than they like the thought of the rewards of the job..

    I keep thinking pigs, troughs and george Orwell...dunno why

    £ 566,868 requires 188,956 contributions of £3.00 and all before a puppy gets dinner

    1. Sir Sham Cad

      Re: The reason is.........

      I know someone who runs a small charity and they're on approximately the same kind of dosh as a 3rd line IT technician at my place. I think some of these charities reach a critical mass and turn into guilt-assuaging corporate entities selling the notion of being a good person for £3 a month plus a fiver during coronation street. It's really difficult to know what the good charities are now.

      Supporting local charities is the way to go.

  4. A K Stiles
    Childcatcher

    Don't fine the charity...

    Make the managing director (or whatever the relevant title is) personally financially responsible for such things and then they might be a bit more circumspect in what they permit or encourage their staff / volunteers to do.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Don't fine the charity...

      "Make the managing director (or whatever the relevant title is) personally financially responsible"

      That would be the trustees. They occupy a similar position to the directors of a company. Trustee or director, it should be where the buck stops.

      1. anothercynic Silver badge

        Re: Don't fine the charity...

        @Doctor Syntax, that did not stop The Kids Company to go pearshaped...

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Don't fine the charity...

          "that did not stop The Kids Company to go pearshaped"

          I'm not aware that any action was taken against the trustees.

  5. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Medical Charities

    I've never liked the idea of medical charities. Taxpayers pay a substantial amount of money every year to the NHS and it should be funding the medical research and equipment purchases. These days it seems like they are an additional tax to help prop up a bloated mismanaged inefficient system.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Medical Charities

      That is one opinion and quite valid UNTIL you get the disease the charity is funding research into

      I got a rather nasty and rare Leukaemia. I found out that the treatment I received was largely discovered by one charity so I donated a good sum of money to them. A kind of thank you.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm not one bit surprised by this as they are all dodgy and the money is probably invested in shares like comic relief so it's not going to where it's needed, just being used to make more money.

    I give to local charities that have things I can see like hospices, animal shelters etc.. I also don't mind macmillan as you can see what they do.

    Also don't get me started on chuggers (charity muggers) getting paid money to sign people up to direct debits, did anyone think they volunteer out the goodness of the hearts? Why do you think they are so annoyingly happy when they run towards you? Scum.

    1. Hollerithevo

      Chugger costs

      Macmillan etc pay chugger organisations HUGE amounts. The sign-ups are good, but they consider the chuggers a bit of visible marketing. I say, after being harassed 5 days our of 5 last week, that it is negative marketing.

      1. Warm Braw

        Re: Chugger costs

        I think it's also about being able to distance themselves from the tactics. A while back a bunch of Macmillan chuggers got into the block of flats where I live by ringing all the bells until someone unwisely opened the front door and they then roamed round the corridors knocking on all the doors - until I threw them out. Finding anyone at Macmillan to complain to was like the search for the Holy Grail and the person who finally deigned to respond simply said that since it was employees of a private company who were trespassing and not Macmillan staff it wasn't their problem as they had "strict guidelines" for their contractor's commission-hungry temporary staff to ignore.

  7. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Happy

    But it's chaaaaaarity, mate.

    Yeah.

    You say donation list

    I say sucker list.

    BTW anyone interested should check out the tax rules around being the CEO of a charity.

    I think they explain why quite a few celebrities have started their own charities over the years.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ding dong

    seriously, the doorbell has just gone, and it's CR-UK ...

    1. Your alien overlord - fear me

      Re: Ding dong

      What, the bastards have just stolen your doorbell?

  9. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    All of the above...

    All the above are charities in name only. They are actually all multi-million pound businesses.

  10. a_yank_lurker

    Same problems on this side

    We have the same problems on this side of the pond. Too many charities get <20% often <10% of the funds raised by 'professional fund raisers'. Also, many large charities waste money on high salaries, high rent office space, etc. which means less money is actually be spent on the purpose of the charity.

  11. Bloodbeastterror

    I still donate to various charities monthly (very sad to see Oxfam on the list), but I struck the NSPCC off my list years ago when I read that of the £38m the received in donations £27m went on advertising. I didn't contribute to fill f*ing Porsches with petrol...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Oxfam's breach was by using a commercial update service to refresh their dataset. Possibly a new address dataset sold quite openly by a number of vendors, including the Royal Mail.

      I'm fairly sure I know who sold it to them, and I'm certain he didn't realise that it was naughty, I didn't realise it was and I suspect they didn't either.

      The others that shared data - they must have known they were breaking the rules and it's inexcusable. There should be been massive fines.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The providers of the data have done nothing wrong. It is the charities who are at fault as they didn't state they would carry out this screening to donors. If they had done there would have been no fines.

        1. Adam 52 Silver badge

          I'm not so sure. If depends how Experian, CACI and SIG got their data. From the ICO's position if those giving it didn't tell the data providers it was going to be sold on then they were bad too.

          Say, for example, by mining the full electoral roll (which they get as credit agencies), or the census or loyalty card data.

          Has the ICO released a more detailed "why" document than the one linked from the article? I can't find it if they have.

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Childcatcher

    Is anyone hearing the sound of John Cleese saying..

    "We at Slater Nazi are quite keen on getting into orphans...."

    TOTC because that's charity and I wouldn't want that line to be misunderstood.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Is anyone hearing the sound of John Cleese saying..

      That sketch tells you everything you need to know about merchant banks, ever.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        "That sketch tells you everything you need to know about merchant banks, ever."

        And it's close to half a century old.

        This s**t's been going on for a long time.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A few years ago my elderly father received a phone call from Red Cross saying they were trying to trace me. This person must have done some quite serious in-depth Internet research to connect the two of us and get his phone number. The sort of research that the Red Cross might do, for example, to re-unite family members who had been separated after a natural disaster or something. Of course I hadn't been in a natural disaster, I'd just "forgotten" to give them any money recently. My father luckily told them where to go and didn't give them my contact details - I'm not sure if he has enough marbles to do that today. Anyway, the result for Red Cross is that I've never given them another penny.

    The difficulty from their perspective is that while they can easily measure the benefit of these "advanced" fundraising methods, I.e. additional income raised, they can't easily measure the downsides, I.e. people like me who are put off donating.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      The difficulty from their perspective is that while they can easily measure the benefit of these "advanced" fundraising methods, I.e. additional income raised, they can't easily measure the downsides, I.e. people like me who are put off donating.

      That applies to all forms of advertising.

  14. Your alien overlord - fear me

    I've a simple rule - when asked for money I respond with ... "Do any of your bosses earn £40,000 a year or more from you?" If they do, the bosses can pay my donation.

    Why? The bosses of these kind of charities are normally upper class or celebrities. They can afford to do the work for free especially since they expect the grunts on the ground to work for free, many of whom would benefit a salary, like the charity shop workers.

  15. the Jim bloke

    Same thing Down Under

    Back in my foolish yoof, i agreed to donate to "The Wilderness Society", who I have since come to realise are rabid anti-development media-whores riding the wave of white suburban guilt, sinking further towards radicalism as they attempt to keep their "brand" differentiated from other charities/green groups.

    On the other hand, they do keep me informed of new and upcoming mining and development projects I might be interested in :D

    On a positive note, I am relatively happy supporting WaterAid

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Go

    "they do keep me informed of new and upcoming mining and development projects"

    So handy if you deal in shares in that sector.

  17. GcdJ

    You can see how the deep dive into the data would work

    When the charity gets a new one-off donation they check to see if the donor can be upgraded to a regular donation? When they get a new regular donation they check to see if the donor can be upgraded to bequeath a payment in their will.

    From the charities perspective they do not need to spend time and effort (+£) trying to upgrade donors that refuse to comply because they would rather spend the money on good causes.

    So the cost of little data mining to narrow their focus to the more likely candidates is economically very attractive.

    No point fining the CEO or trustees - they are not paid very much (relative to FT350 companies with a similar turnover) and is would only prevent the charities being able to attract good talent.

    A slap on the wrist is the right way to proceed. If a charity continues with the behavior the fine will be increased and the reputational damage will be significant.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: You can see how the deep dive into the data would work

      "No point fining the CEO or trustees - they are not paid very much (relative to FT350 companies with a similar turnover) and is would only prevent the charities being able to attract good talent."

      If the trustees are allowing this sort of behaviour it throws the notion of "good talent" into question.

  18. teebie

    I got a begging call from Macmillan, who I had donated to so they could fun nurses, not so they could funding arseholes to annoy me, and since then everything I would have sent to them has gone to Cancer Research UK. ICO may think I didn't make the best choice, but at least they haven't bothered me.

    I was going to set up a DD for Shelter, but then they chugged me. If I donate to shelter its because I want them to use it to help the homeless, not to pay people who look homeless to jump in front of me when I'm on lunchbreak.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "I got a begging call from Macmillan, who I had donated to so they could fun nurses"

      I like the sound of those nurses, I might donate.

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