Vulnerable donors

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To ensure that we take all reasonable care to protect vulnerable adults, Prisoners’ Education Trust (PET) is registered with the Fundraising Regulator, adheres to the Fundraising Code of Practice as held by the Fundraising Regulator, and complies with the Institute of Fundraising’s guidance set out in ‘Treating Donors Fairly: Responding to the needs of people in Vulnerable Circumstances’.

These guidelines do not cover children and young people under the age of 18, and we do not actively seek donations from them.

PET relies on donations from individuals and organisations to fund our work – without our donors we could not provide essential educational opportunities to people in prison. We aim to communicate with supporters in the ways in which they are most comfortable and this includes mail, email, phone and in person.

Every donor is an individual with a unique background, experiences and circumstances – and every interaction between a fundraiser and donor is different. PET does not define vulnerable adults based on broad personal characteristics such as disability or age. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to donate if they are willing and able to do so, and that denying people the chance to give based on appearance, age or behaviour may be considered discriminatory.

It is inevitable that we will come into contact with people who are vulnerable and not able to make informed decisions about their giving. This document outlines how we take all reasonable care to identify supporters who may be vulnerable, and what action we take if we suspect a person is vulnerable.

The Code of Fundraising Practice standards relating to vulnerability (Treating Donors Fairly, page 8) are:

1.3.5. Your fundraising must meet equality law as it applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. You must not discriminate against people with characteristics protected under the law of these countries. You can get more information from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

1.3.6 You must take all reasonable steps to treat a donor fairly, so that they can make an informed decision about any donation.

1.3.7 You must take into account the needs of any possible donor who may be in vulnerable circumstances or need extra care and support to make an informed decision.

1.3.8 You must not exploit the trust, lack of knowledge, apparent need for care and support or vulnerable circumstance of any donor at any time.

1.3.9 You must not take a donation if you know, or have good reason to believe, that a person lacks capacity to make a decision to donate, or is in vulnerable circumstances which mean they may not be able to make an informed decision.

1.3.10 If a donor makes a donation while they do not have the capacity to make an informed decision, you must return the money to them.”

PET fundraising practice abides by the four key principles of ‘Treating Donors Fairly’ (page 6), namely:

Being respectful
This means being mindful of and sensitive to any particular need that a donor may have. It also means striving to respect the wishes and preferences of the donor.

Being responsive
Fundraisers need to be ready to adapt their approach and be flexible to meet the needs of individuals. It also means being prepared to ask questions or take additional steps when necessary.

Being fair
Fundraisers should not make decisions based solely on a particular characteristics such as a person’s appearance, the way they talk, any medical condition, or disability. Fairness means responding to people as individuals.

Being accountable
Fundraisers should take responsibility for their actions, ensuring that their work is carried out in line with the Code of Fundraising Practice.

As stated in ‘Treating Donors Fairly’, all individuals may, at some stage in their life, be considered vulnerable or require additional care and support, depending on their own personal circumstances, health, bereavements, life events and more. These factors could affect people differently and for different periods of time. For instance, an individual could manage a family bereavement without obvious long-term distress, whilst somebody else may need more substantial support for a prolonged period of time.

An individual who may need additional care and support, or may be considered to be in a vulnerable circumstance, can still have capacity to choose to donate to a charity.

What is relevant is the context and circumstance that they are in at the time of making the decision about whether to donate. For example, a recently bereaved person may need additional support, but this may change over time. At the time of bereavement, they could still have the capacity to make a donation, but might need additional support to help them make their decision.

Additional support may include: delaying acceptance of the gift to give the donor further time to consider it; including a ‘cooling off’ period to allow the donor time to change his or her mind; and suggesting the donor gets advice from family/friends.

The following are examples of indicators which could mean that an individual is in a vulnerable circumstance or needs additional support:

  • Physical and mental medical conditions
  • Disability
  • Times of stress/anxiety (e.g. bereavement, redundancy)
  • Financial vulnerability (where a gift from a donor may impact on their ability to sufficiently care for themselves or leave them in financial hardship)
  • Limited ability to communicate effectively
  • Influence of alcohol or drugs.

It is not feasible to provide a comprehensive set of factors or characteristics which would enable fundraisers to always identify an individual who is in vulnerable circumstances.  We therefore use the checklist set out in ‘Treating Donors Fairly’ (page 15) to help identify signs in verbal and written communications that an individual may be in a vulnerable circumstance (it should be noted some signs are more relevant for verbal communication than written):

Is the individual:

Having difficulty processing information:

  • Asking irrelevant and unrelated questions, or wandering off the subject and making incongruous statements?
  • Unable to read and understand the information they are provided with, and asking for it to be continually repeated?
  • Responding in an irrational way to questions or saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when they clearly haven’t understood?
  • Taking a long time or displaying difficulty in responding to simple questions or requests for information?
  • Repeating simple questions such as ‘who are you’, ‘what charity is it’ and ‘what do you want’?
  • Displaying signs of forgetfulness or difficulty remembering relevant information, e.g. that they are already a regular donor to that charity or have recently donated?

Showing signs of distress or discomfort:

  • Saying that they are not well or not in the mood to continue or displaying signs of ill-health like breathlessness or making signs of exasperation or discontent?

Indicating they are overwhelmed or not capable:

  • Giving a statement such as ‘I don’t usually do things like this, my husband/wife/son/daughter takes care of it’?’
  • Having a third party such as a family member, contact the charity on behalf of the donor to communicate a request e.g. cancelling a direct debit?
  • Indicating in any way that they are feeling rushed, flustered, or experiencing a stressful situation?
  • Donating an unexpectedly large gift in combination with any of the above indicators and/or with no prior relationship with the organisation?

If one or more of these signs are noted, we may contact the donor to assess in more detail whether we believe the donor to be vulnerable. This contact would be made in line with our data protection policies and adhering to any communication preferences the donor has stated.

In some instances a supporter may actively declare their vulnerable status, or a family member of carer will alert PET. Where we have been given this information we act upon this, by asking the supporter or their family member/carer what kind of communication, if any, is acceptable.

  • Communicate clearly, avoiding words and phrases that may be hard to understand (if communicating verbally we will also avoid shouting).
  • Repeat information.
  • Try to reflect the terminology used by the donor which may help to increase their understanding.
  • Be patient and not rush or pressure the individual.
  • Provide alternative formats of fundraising materials (e.g. accessible formats).
  • Consider alternative ways of communicating with supporters with they have additional accessibility requirements (e.g. using video calls instead of the telephone).
  • Be upfront and tell the person why PET is communicating with them and check that they are happy to continue.
  • Ask if they would prefer to be contacted in a different way or at a different time.
  • Ask if they would like to talk to anybody else before making a decision.
  • Check their understanding at relevant parts of the interaction (especially if face to face or on the phone) and ask if there is anything that needs further explanation.
  • Allow them to defer their decision to a later date, for example, by offering to send information in the post.

If PET believes that an individual may be in a vulnerable circumstance or unable to make an informed decision, we will politely and carefully end our interaction with that individual, and make a file note of the engagement, including time, date, name of supporter, and the name of PET volunteer or staff member who was interacting with the donor. The Head of Fundraising & Communications will also be informed to assess whether there is a need for any further action.

If PET has reasonable grounds for believing that a supporter lacks the capacity to make a decision then their donation will not be taken.

If after a donation has been given, PET receives evidence that the person lacked capacity to make the decision to donate, then the charity will return the donation because the original donation was invalid.

If a donor is found to lack capacity, PET will put in place measures to ensure that donations are not solicited from them in the future. We will note the circumstances on our supporter database, mark the individual as “No Mail” and retain their information in line with data retention and financial control policies.

If appropriate, and as recommended in ‘Treating Donors Fairly’ (page 19), if an individual is expressing signs of being distressed and tells us that they are in a particular situation (e.g., they are recently bereaved, or have been diagnosed with a medical condition) then part of responding appropriately may be to let them know that there is a charity or service which might help them and passing on a phone number or website address if the individual is interested.

Should you wish to discuss any aspect of this policy, or would like to raise a concern about a supporter of PET whom you believe to be vulnerable, in the first instance, please contact Cassie Edmiston, Head of Fundraising & Communications:


T: 020 3752 5670

Prisoners’ Education Trust, The Foundry, 17 Oval Way, London, SE11 5RR

If you would like to escalate your concern, please review PET’s fundraising complaints policy, available on our website and on request ( /

For reference:

Fundraising Regulator:

Fundraising Code of Practice:

Chartered Institute of Fundraising ‘Treating Donors Fairly’:

PET Vulnerable Donors Policy

Drafted: March 2017

Adopted: March 2017

Review date: May 2022

Next review date: May 2023

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