She was well known in Bristol, where the Evening Post had run a story about her last October in which she was reported as saying that 'the elderly are targeted with this sort of mail on purpose, as charities think they have lots of disposable money or they might have donated in the past, but receiving so much is overwhelming. And it’s not just post, there are also lots of phone calls that come through.'
It was perhaps not surprising, therefore, that the Daily Mail, which was already investigating the activities of direct mailing companies working for some of the country's best known charities, made a connection between Mrs Cooke's suicide and the increasingly aggressive tactics that seem to be used by fundraising agencies.
Mrs Cooke's family have made it clear that they do not hold fundraisers or charities responsible for her death, and the issue of fundraising methods was not mentioned by the coroner who conducted the inquest into her death. However, the repercussions of the media coverage are significant for a sector that is working hard to generate voluntary income at a time when local and central government funding is harder and harder to secure. In particular, the case has highlighted what many see as the deficiencies in the current arrangements for regulating fundraising activities, and there are also some specific concerns about companies who may have deliberately targeted people who are vulnerable.
The charity sector has, on the whole, been willing to concede that there are valid concerns about fundraising methods. Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children, agreed that 'we need one strong body to regulate charity fundraising… rather than the current confused structure', while the Government has responded to the controversy by promoting an additional clause 14 in the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill. The clause would require contracts between charities and fundraising agencies to include a statement about how the interests of vulnerable people will be protected, and would also require charities with an annual income of over £1 million to include in their annual reports and accounts a statement of the steps they take to prevent inappropriate fundraising from vulnerable people.
The particular concerns identified in the new clause 14 are:
The Minister for Civil Society, Rob Wilson, has asked the Chief Executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Sir Stuart Etherington, to conduct a review of the self-regulation of charity fundraising, with a view to identifying any further legislative measures that might need to be taken. The Public Administration Select Committee is also looking into fundraising practices and issued a call for evidence on call centres targeting vulnerable people, on the amendments to the Bill, how charities came to adopt the fundraising practices that have led to these concerns, and the level of leadership in the charity fundraising sector. The deadline for submissions is 26 August.