The FIA has begun using mystery shoppers to conduct random spot checks to ensure its members comply with its new code, which came into force on January 1.

The Fundraising Institute Australia has begun a six-month trial of random spot checks, conducted by telephone, mail, email and in person, to ensure its members comply with its new code, which came into force on January 1.

Borrowing the common ‘mystery shopper’ technique from the hospitality, retail and franchise sectors, late last year the FIA recruited a ‘code monitor’ to check fundraising staff are adhering to the code in their dealings with the public.

A key focus area for the six-month trial is how FIA members treat people who may sometimes be in vulnerable circumstances, or may lack capacity to consent to make a donation, including the elderly and the young.

The FIA code states: “Members will not accept a Donation where they have a reasonable belief that the Donor is in vulnerable circumstances or lacks capacity to make a decision to Donate.”

The pilot will also check on member compliance with ‘opt-out’ requests from the public, with a report to be delivered to the Code Authority upon the conclusion of the trial.

“Members will, each time they contact a prospective donor, provide information about how the prospective donor can opt-out of receiving any further solicitations from the member,” the FIA code states.

The code makes a distinction between existing and ‘prospective’ donors. It does not require members to provide an opt-out to existing donors, including for people who have previously opted-in to receiving solicitations.

Along with conducting spot checks, the FIA will also provide a web-based training program to educate fundraisers about their obligations to the public.

In a statement, FIA CEO Rob Edwards said he believes occasional checks will help to lift standards across the sector and improve compliance with the code, which in turn will boost public confidence in the sector and make the general public more willing to donate.

“The new Code lends itself to this kind of proactive monitoring. It contains a number of specific commitments by fundraisers in how they must treat donors, beneficiaries and suppliers,” Edwards said.

“The Code Monitor may choose to test compliance with this requirement by simply asking a fundraiser, who is making calls on behalf of a charity, if they are able to provide this information.”

While the FIA previously relied on a complaints-based process to monitor complaints, Edwards said the new proactive approach would help to address issues before problems arise.

“One problem with a complaints-driven process is that you are always reacting to something that has gone wrong. By then, the damage has been done. This new approach helps prevent things from going wrong in the first place,” Edwards said.

Members contacted by mystery shoppers and found to have breached the Code may be subject to further investigation by the Code Authority.

“If we find evidence of non-compliance we will, in the first instance, privately inform the member of the breach. It is not our intention to embarrass any member by publicly reporting on a breach occurrence. It is only in cases of ongoing or wilful non-compliance that the code authority would publicly sanction the member,” said Mr. Edwards.

Update: This article was updated on 1 March 2018 to include additional details about the initial six-month pilot program.

With over 1500 members, Fundraising Institute Australia is the largest representative body for the $12.5 billion fundraising sector which is supported by some 14.9 million Australians. FIA members include charities and other fundraising not-for-profits operating domestically and internationally as well as the organisations and professionals that provide services to them. 


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