Commonwealth, state and territory treasurers have agreed to a set of nationally consistent fundraising principles.
The principles streamline state and territory requirements on charitable fundraiser conduct and will give charities and donors a clear understanding of what constitutes appropriate behaviour.
Principle 8 requires charities to never exploit the trust, lack of knowledge, lack of capacity, apparent need for care and support, or vulnerable circumstances of any donor.
Each state and territory will release plans, outlining how they will give effect to the principles and when the principles will commence. For an update on the progress in your state or territory, contact your fundraising regulator.
How a charity conducts its fundraising is not only crucial to successful fundraising campaigns, but can also have a direct bearing on its reputation.
A charity’s fundraising practices should be consistent with its values, and should see it treat current and potential donors fairly and respectfully.
Successful fundraising should not be measured solely on the amount of money raised. It is particularly important that any fundraising – be it conducted directly by a charity or conducted on a charity’s behalf through a fundraising agency – has adequate processes in place to protect people in vulnerable circumstances.
The purpose of this guidance is to help charities to act responsibly when their fundraising activities engage people in vulnerable circumstances.
Oversight of fundraising is a core governance responsibility for charities. A charity’s Responsible People (board or committee members, or trustees) should carefully consider how their charity interacts with people in vulnerable circumstances while conducting fundraising activities.
Although the ACNC does not directly regulate fundraising activities, our regulation of charity governance and our responsibility for promoting trust and confidence in Australia’s charities mean the way charities conduct fundraising is an area of interest and concern.
For more information about fundraising regulation, see our Fundraising Hub.
People in vulnerable circumstances
Not everyone is in a position to make a confident, informed choice about donating to charity. This may mean that they are vulnerable to exploitation or unethical behaviour.
A person may be considered vulnerable if their circumstances mean their capacity to make a decision is reduced. Vulnerability can be permanent or temporary, and can vary greatly from person to person.
Common examples of people in vulnerable circumstances can include those:
- with intellectual disabilities that affect comprehension or understanding
- with physical or mental health issues (permanent or temporary)
- who don’t fully understand the language the fundraiser is speaking
- experiencing financial difficulty
- experiencing stress or anxiety (including that induced by a request for a donation)
- under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- who are unable to care for themselves (especially those who rely on the support or care of a charity)
- who are elderly (especially those without close support) and very young.
Having the capacity to decide make a donation to charity means that a person is able to, either alone or with support:
- fully understand the information presented to them
- carefully consider the information and the consequences of their decision, and
- communicate their decision clearly.
Charities that conduct fundraising – whether it is in person, over the phone, or online – should be aware of people’s vulnerabilities and take steps to ensure that their fundraising practices do not target or exploit people in vulnerable circumstances.
And if a charity is working with a fundraising agency, it needs to ensure the agency is also not targeting or exploiting vulnerable people.
The extent to which a person’s capacity to make a decision is reduced will depend on their particular circumstances.
Some people in vulnerable circumstances may still be capable of making an informed decision about making a donation, as long as they have extra care and support.
Identifying people in vulnerable circumstances
Understandably, it can be difficult to detect vulnerability when asking people to donate to charity, particularly when the interaction is not face-to-face.
An individual’s capacity to make a decision depends on a range of factors, with some more obvious than others.
Charity fundraisers should be aware of some of the common signs of vulnerability, and act with considerable care when interacting with people who may be in vulnerable circumstances.
Common signs that a person may be in a vulnerable circumstance can include:
- a lack of comprehension of what is being said
- continually asking for statements or questions to be repeated
- making statements that indicate others look after their affairs – for example, 'my son or daughter normally looks after these matters for me'
- responses that indicate the person does not fully understand the language being spoken
- any expressions of being uncomfortable, stressed or anxious
- irrational, confusing or erratic responses to simple statements or questions
- excuses to not talk or interact
- a reliance on the immediate care or support of a charity
- eagerness to donate (sometimes large sums of money) without sufficient knowledge of the cause or without asking the types of questions a regular donor would in the same situation.
Charities should be aware of the signs of vulnerability and not seek donations from people who don’t appear to have the capacity to make informed decisions about donating.
Interacting with people in vulnerable circumstances
How charity fundraisers respond to the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances will depend on the nature of the activity and the interaction they have.
If a charity fundraiser reasonably thinks that a potential donor may be in vulnerable circumstances – and not able to make a confident and informed decision to donate at the time of their interaction – they must not accept any donation offered.
It is highly unethical to target or exploit people in vulnerable circumstances to secure funding.
A charity fundraiser in this situation should also allow the person some time to think about potentially making a donation, and provide a way for them to contact the charity later with a decision.
And if a charity learns that a donation has been made by a vulnerable person without informed consent, it may wish to consider providing a refund for the donation.
There are some steps that charity fundraisers should take to ensure they are treating people in vulnerable circumstances fairly, regardless of the type of fundraising activity:
- Speak clearly, slowly and use terms that the person can understand.
- Make it clear who you are and which charity you are collecting donations for.
- Repeat important pieces of information – particularly the consequences of a decision to donate.
- As the interaction progresses, continue to check and ensure that the person understands and is happy to continue.
- Do not put pressure on the person to make a donation – politely accept any refusals to donate without reservation.
- Ask the person if they need to consult someone else about the decision.
- If seeking substantial gifts or bequests, provide an opportunity for the donor to seek advice.
- Provide the person with relevant information and options for donating later so they can consider their decision in their own time.
Ensuring people in vulnerable circumstances are treated fairly
It is vital that charities to consider people in vulnerable circumstances when they plan and conduct any fundraising activities. Again, a charity must not target and exploit people in vulnerable circumstances to raise funds.
Acting without sufficient regard for the circumstances of individuals can also result in a loss of support and funds and can cause irreparable damage to a charity’s reputation.
Responsible People should ensure that:
- their charity’s fundraising strategies consider the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances and contain measures to minimise risks of them being targeted or exploited
- charity fundraisers recognise the indicators of vulnerable circumstance and know how to act appropriately when they encounter a person in such circumstances
- any contracts with third-party fundraisers, such as fundraising agencies, have measures in place to protect people who may be in vulnerable circumstances, and
- the charity has processes and checks in place to protect the interests of people in vulnerable circumstances.