Olive Cooke jumped to her death from the observatory near the Clifton Bridge in Bristol. Her body was found in the Avon Gorge on 6 May. A tragic event for this lady, of course, but also one that has – some may say unjustifiably – unleashed a media storm against charities.
Olive had been a fundraiser for the Royal British Legion for 76 years. She supported numerous other charities and it was revealed after her death that she had been receiving some 200 letters a month from charitable organisations, asking for donations. The media immediately went to town, with a general assault using headlines such as “Despicable charities prey on the elderly” and “Shame of charities that drove Olive to her death”. Olive’s daughter made an express statement on the day the story first spread to the effect that she did not believe that charity communications had been a factor in her mother’s death, and her granddaughter added that she had not been “overly concerned” by them. Instead, her suicide had apparently been motivated by repeated bouts of depression and a recent cancer diagnosis. However, the media chose only to report these stories belatedly, and even then in incredulous tones.
Olive Cooke, then, became a standard bearer for a cause celebre against charities, despite this being, as her family said, the last thing she would have wanted. The Prime Minister waded in, vowing to tighten the regulation of charities’ cold-calling and data-sharing activities. He announced a review of the Code of Fundraising Practice, the self-regulation scheme enforced by the Fundraising Standards Board (“FSB”) that controls the way in which charities raise funds, and hinted that he might be prepared to push through legislation to replace the self-regulatory framework.
The FSB and various major charities have promised to contribute to the review, and Peter Lewis, of the Institute of Fundraising’s Standards Committee, conceded that: “it is critical to maintain public trust and confidence in charities, and an important part of this is to fundraise in the right way.”
At the same time, several players in the lotteries sector have expressed considerable disquiet about the effect that all of this negative publicity might have on lottery recruitment and participation. For many charities, their lottery accounts for a large proportion of overall income, with many donors enjoying the fun aspect of participating in a raffle and the prospect of perhaps “getting something back”.
Whilst the Government may legitimately feel that a clampdown on cold-calling and data sharing by some charities is needed, it is to be hoped that the proposed review will acknowledge the fact that the lotteries sector is already an extremely tightly regulated one. Small society lotteries must register with their local authority, and large society lotteries can only be run under the authority of an operating licence issued by the Gambling Commission.(“GC”) This means that they must comply with all of the requirements of the Gambling Act , and the GC’s Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice (“LCCP”). A recent change to the LCCP, in particular, which came into force on 8 May this year, requires charities and their commercial partners who help them run their lotteries, also known as external lottery managers, to set upper limits for the numbers of lottery tickets sold to a person and undertake and record interaction with the customer where those limits are sought to be exceeded. The records have to be kept for at least three years and made available to the GC on request. Even before this, many charities have voluntarily imposed such limits, and have tended to differentiate between numbers of tickets sent to known supporters and those sent “cold”.
Of course, charities must comply with the social responsibility provisions of the legislation and LCCP when approaching people to play their lotteries, and they may not target those aged under 16. They are obliged to account to the GC in respect of their lottery activity, through the submission of regular regulatory returns. Charity lotteries are also subject to the Committee of Advertising Practice’s advertising codes, which govern the way in which they are marketed. Marketing communications must not portray, condone or encourage gambling behaviour that is socially irresponsible or could lead to financial, social or emotional harm. They must not suggest participation in a lottery as an escape from personal, professional or educational problems, that it represents a solution to financial problems or that it is indispensable or should take priority in life. They must not exploit the susceptibilities, aspirations, credulity, inexperience or lack of knowledge of children, young persons or other vulnerable persons, or cultural beliefs or traditions about gambling or luck.
The Government is expected to consult shortly on the tightening of regulation of charities. I expect the lotteries sector to produce a robust response that resists the imposition of yet further controls on what is already a strictly regulated activity. The impact more generally, though, of the dark cloud currently hanging over charities on society lottery take-up remains to be seen. We will continue to monitor developments and will report back.