New UK guidance for fundraisers dealing with people in vulnerable circumstances

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The Chartered Institute of Fundraising has published updated guidance for fundraisers on ‘Treating donors fairly’, with a particular focus on responding to people in vulnerable circumstances while fundraising.

The rules that govern how to deal with people in vulnerable circumstances while fundraising are set out in the Charities Act 2016 and the Code of Fundraising Practice. The guidance from the Chartered Institute of Fundraising is designed to act as a framework. Fundraisers can use it to inform their approach to members of the public who may be in a vulnerable circumstance, and fundraise in a way that is compliant with the legal rules.

The guidance covers: mental capacity and vulnerable circumstances; how to respond to the needs of individuals; data protection and recording sensitive information; and developing an internal policy on fundraising and vulnerability.

In terms of mental capacity and vulnerable circumstances, the guidance sets out the distinction between dealing with someone who lacks the mental capacity to make a decision, and someone who is in vulnerable circumstance and so may need more support in order to make an informed decision to donate. For fundraisers, it will not be possible to make an assessment of whether someone lacks mental capacity, as this requires a medical practitioner. Instead, the guidance explains how a fundraiser should respond if they are concerned or suspect someone may not have the mental capacity to make a donation. The guidance notes that if someone donates who lacks the mental capacity makes a donation, it will be invalid.

On the other hand, an individual in a vulnerable circumstance could still have the capacity to choose to donate, but may need additional support to reach that decision. Where a fundraiser may be dealing with someone in a vulnerable circumstance, the guidance suggests that a ‘cooling off’ period is offered to the donor, allowing them to think about the donation.

Examples of vulnerable circumstances include times of stress or anxiety and financial vulnerability, as well certain medical conditions or disability. The guidance stresses that, similarly to mental capacity, fundraisers should not be attempting to make a decision about whether someone is vulnerable, but should know the signs that may indicate vulnerability so they can respond appropriately.

On the other hand, an individual in a vulnerable circumstance could still have the capacity to choose to donate, but may need additional support to reach that decision.

The guidance also sets out how data protection rules come into play when dealing with vulnerable donors. Information about a donor’s physical or mental health conditions is categorised as sensitive or ‘special category’ data under GDPR, meaning that fundraisers should be particularly cautious about recording any such details. Fundraisers may want to record such information so they can take make necessary adjustments in future communications with the donor. However, they should only do so if they have consent from the donor either verbally or in writing. The guidance provides helpful scripts and text to use when obtaining this consent.

Finally, the guidance gives recommendations for organisations developing internal policies on fundraising and vulnerability. Having such a policy has internal benefits, as it gives staff and volunteers clear guidance on what is expected from them, but it can also be a useful external tool, to explain to the public how the organisation operates.

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