By: Michael O’Farrell, Fionnuala O’Leary, Eimear McGovern 

FUNDRAISERS for a high-profile charity have been caught making false claims in an effort to profit from donations made by the public.

An Irish Mail on Sunday investigation placed undercover staff with a commercial fundraising firm, recorded flagrant abuses of accepted industry standards and the fundraisers‘ own code of practice.

While working on a door-to-door fundraising campaign run by Dublin firm Red Fundraising Ltd, our reporters recorded agents:

  •  giving false information – including linking the client charity’s campaign to a fight against terror group Isis;
  •  misleading potential donors over the true purpose of a donation and the amount that goes to the child;
  •  misleading would-be donors by knowingly relying on inaccurate statistics;
  •  encouraging those already donating to other charities to switch to ActionAid instead;
  • encouraging females to flirt their way to better sales.
Red Fundraising pg 13

October 18, 2015.

Red Fundraising was first made aware of these allegations three weeks ago when CEO Toby Bourke was given a document detailing the recordings. The company’s initial response was of shock and disappointment but they asked for time to offer a substantial response. No substantial response to our findings have been offered to date.

Red Fundraising pg 12In one of the legal letters Red Fundraising said it ‘does endeavour at all times to ensure that all employees follow its code of practice’, and that all of its sales are supported by an independent third party verification process.

But when ActionAid Ireland – the charity which contracted Red but which is not implicated in the tactics used by Red – were made aware of these matters by the MoS it suspended its campaign with Red Fundraising, saying it was horrified at such ‘tactics’.

‘ActionAid Ireland condemns the alleged behaviour of some individuals employed by Red Fundraising while carrying out a short trial fundraising campaign on our behalf,’ said CEO Siobhán McGee.

‘The behaviour was completely contrary to the professional standards we require of ourselves and those that fundraise on our behalf.’ Red Fundraising was contracted by ActionAid Ireland this summer to recruit donors for its long-running Sponsor A Child campaign.

The Red Fundraising campaign was a 12-week trial beginning in June which signed up 277 sponsorships worth over €76,000 annually. The company is headed up by Toby Bourke – a one-time collaborator with singer George Michael turned fundraising professional.

ActionAid’s Sponsor A Child campaign asks for a direct debit of €23 a month from donors and is focused on the Marafa region of Kenya.

Prior to signing with Red Fundraising, ActionAid used a company called Total Fundraising Ltd which collapsed in May with debts in excess of €700,000 owed to creditors – including some charities. Some employees of Total Fundraising now work with Red Fundraising.

Red Fundraising pg 14

Truth Versus Reality

In the absence of a formal code of conduct to cover fundraising in Ireland most charities – including ActionAid – have committed to an interim Statement of Guiding Principles for Fundraising. The Statement of Guiding Principles is not legally binding or enforceable.

In its annual reports, Action-Aid Ireland says that it is ‘fully committed to achieving the standards contained within the Statement of Guiding Principles for Fundraising‘.

Recent controversies over charity fundraising forced the Government to belatedly establish the Charities Regulatory Authority but fundraising remains outside the scope of the regulator’s remit.

Red Fundraising pg 16

Pressure Tactics – The ‘Shoulder Lean.’

There is also little public knowedge about the fees earned by agencies such as Red Fundraising which can often amount to as much as the entire first year’s donations.

ActionAid declined to specify how much it was paying per direct debit sign-up in this instance but confirmed it lost money if a donor dropped out within a year.

However, evidence from across the sector shows that door-to-door fundraising is the most cost-way to raise money. ActionAid said it had been monitoring the RedFundraising Ltd campaign by calling some donors.

During their employment with Red Fundraising our reporters recorded numerous infringements of the Statement of Guiding Principles – many of them repeated.

The most common breach of the Guiding Principles involved fundraisers ignoring the truth in their sales pitches. Different agents referred to children as young as two being abducted into the sex trade and sold by terrorist groups such as Isis and Al-Qaeda – a complete falsehood in the case of Marafa in Kenya.

Employees with Red Fundraising receive briefings about the Marafa sponsorship campaign. Child sex trafficking, Isis and Al-Qaeda were never mentioned because they are not issues in any way.

Other mistruths involved the proportion of each donation that actually goes to charity. ‘I’d say it all goes straight to the child. No one is going to research it,’ a RedFundraising supervisor told one of our reporters when she asked for guidance.

Red Fundraising pg 17

The Pay Structure

During training Action-Aid staff briefed Red Fundraising employees to the effect that 72% of child sponsorship is spent directly on the child’s community in Marafa.

Another mistruth saw a fundraiser tell a potential donor not to donate online in a bid to get a direct debit signed. ‘You can make a once-off donation online – but if you make a €20 donation online we’ll be taxed about €15 by the [Irish] Government,’ the fundraiser said.

Our reporters heard attempts by Red Fundraising employees to get donors to drop charities they already supported in favour of ActionAid.

‘We don’t want to take people away from their charities because the people who are donating – they’re the type of people we want,’ one agent told a homeowner. ‘But you can do what’s called charity rotation…What you can do is say, look, for the next six months, I’m helping ActionAid so I want to cancel my standing order.’

Red Fundraising pg 15

Who’s Who At Your Door?

ActionAid said that in training sessions, the charity ‘specifically states’ never to ask a donor to cancel a payment to another charity. Red Fundraising staff also failed to disclose that they work for a commercial organisation. Instead they frequently represented themselves as ActionAid employees. It’s impossible to know if this may have been corrected upon a sale being converted via Red’s phone system – though Red insists it would.

Red Fundraising pg 18

Meeting Standards – How Red Fundraising Employees Measured Up.

The standards supposed to be applied by Red Fundraising also forbid behaviours designed to put ‘undue pressure on anyone to make a gift’.

Yet during training RedFundraising staff were coached in techniques to put potential donors under pressure and make potential donors feel uncomfortable – and therefore anxious to sign up to get rid of the fundraiser.

A given 3

The reality for street fundraisers.

Women, meanwhile, were encouraged by management to flirt. ‘You can be the absolute biggest flirt of your life with a guy who answers the door,’ a Red Fundraising manager told a trainee.

ActionAid told the MoS it does ‘not promote the use of high-pressure tactics on prospective donors. It is unethical, unprofessional and against our values’.

Further principles require fundraisers refraining from making ‘negative comments about the charity, the public or team members’. Yet team members made derogatory comments about those they had sought donations from.

‘Look at that **** ,’ a Red Fundraising supervisor told team members. ‘He’s got a 141 Merc… Can’t spend €23 a month. Come on…’ ActionAid said Red Fundraising had initiated an internal investigation into the MoS findings. But the company itself only spoke through a legal letter: ‘Our client does not intend to address the unsubstantiated allegations, aside to make it clear that it does endeavour at all times to ensure that all employees follow its code of practice.’

A given 2

Undercover Experience

Red Fundraising pg 10

Charity and Donors Alike Duped



A PDF file of our original article can be downloaded here – Red Fundraising – Irish Mail on Sunday Investigation October 18, 2015.


Following our investigation into Red Fundraising the polled readers to ask if they trusted chuggers. poll 2

Our Investigation was also followed up in Germany

Germany 2




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