By Tom Bannon
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British charities faced pressure from the government on Tuesday to voluntarily change the way they raise funds following a barrage of complaints about the public being bombarded with appeals for money.
Calls for charities to stop inundating people with donation requests via mail, email and telephone calls followed the suicide of 92-year-old Olive Cooke last month whose death was linked to the huge number of charity requests she received.
Civil Society Minister Rob Wilson called on charities to protect their reputation by finding less aggressive ways to raise money by the end of June, urging them to better self regulate the sector rather than face possible government action.
"I am giving self-regulation an opportunity to demonstrate it can work effectively ... I urge you to take that window of opportunity seriously as the window may not remain open for much longer," he said in a statement forwarded by his office.
British charities operate by a code of practice set by the not-for-profit Fundraising Standards Board that runs a self-regulatory scheme for fundraising while the state-run Charity Commission registers and regulates charities in Britain.
The Institute of Fundraising, which represents some 5,500 individual fundraisers and 420 fundraising charities, estimates individuals give nine billion pounds ($14 billion) a year to charity - close to the government's aid budget - with 28.4 million of a 64 million population giving in a typical month.
Cooke's death sparked an investigation by the Fundraising Standards Board after friends claimed she was "exhausted" by receiving up to 267 letters a month and numerous phone calls from charities. Her family denied this was a cause in her death.
A survey by the Charity Commission, published last week, showed overwhelming public support for greater control of the sector with 76 percent of people saying the Commission should do more to regulate and control charities.
The concerns have prompted the industry to propose "no cold calling" stickers for people's homes, allowing people to opt out of receiving communication from charities and adding some members of the public to the Institute of Fundraising's standards board.
Alistair McLean, chief executive of the Fundraising Standards Board, said in a statement that strengthening self regulation would help improve the fund raising process,
"There is a constant drive to raise standards and improve practice across the whole of the fundraising sector," he said in a statement.
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(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)