Regulating Fundraising for the Future: a Fundraising Preference Service

This is the first of two blog posts about the Fundraising Preference Service proposed in the review of fundraising regulation led by NCVO’s Sir Stuart Etherington. The recommendation has been the subject of intense debate, so this post outlines why the service has been proposed. The second post will explain how it might be implemented, though we don’t have all the answers that people will inevitably be looking for.

What is the Fundraising Preference Service?

The Review has proposed the establishment of a Fundraising Preference Service. This would be a service for individuals and fundraising organisations (I’ll use charities as a shorthand). It should be run by the new Fundraising Regulator. It is a list of people, and their contact details, who do not wish to be contacted with fundraising communications. Charities can access the list to cross check their own databases against prior to fundraising campaigns. And where members of the public continue to receive fundraising communications despite registering, the Fundraising Preference Service offers a basis for changing the relationship.

I’ll explore this in more detail in the second blog post, but the Review panel are well aware of the challenges of implementation. If you’re interested in these, I’ve read strong critiques from Ian MacQuillin and Tobin Aldrich.

What problem is a Fundraising Preference Service seeking to address?

The Review is very clear that charities have a right to ask. It is equally clear that the public have a right to be left alone – and that for some, that balance has gone awry. The public have already demonstrated a desire to be able to more easily remove themselves from charity communications: the BBC’s One Show produced a pro forma ‘don’t contact me’ letter, which was downloaded 30,000 times in a week.

one show

Watching the news coverage of today’s report, there would appear to be no shortage of people wishing for an easier means to ‘reset’ their relationships with charities. Whether the result of mistakenly failing to tick an opt out box or some long-forgotten lifestyle survey, some people feel a lack of control of such communications, whether for themselves or their relatives.

Who is the Fundraising Preference Service for?

The Fundraising Preference Service seeks to redress this balance between charities and the public and provide a simple mechanism for a ‘reset’. In that sense, it’s both a service for those parts of the public who wish to be left alone, and for charities that wish to maintain their reputation by not contacting those who do not wish to be approached.

Just as the Mail Preference Service or the Telephone Preference Service do not completely stop all communications, we would not expect the Fundraising Preference Service to stop all fundraising communications. But we would expect members of the public to see a noticeable difference.

Conversely, we envisage that the Fundraising Preference Service would mainly be a tool for large charities undertaking large volume fundraising.

Isn’t a Fundraising Preference Service unnecessary?

There are substantive arguments that such a service isn’t necessary. Impending changes in EU regulation will very likely move all direct marketing communications to an opt-in only basis by 2018. Mail, fax and telephone preference services already exist, and the public can use these, notwithstanding complaints regarding their effectiveness (which the Fundraising Preference Service may also suffer from).

I’ve similarly heard that the proposal is a ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’ or that you wouldn’t have such a service for, say, the car industry. I hope we can address the former with good design. And I do not think we need to set standards in our sector by those in the for-profit sector.

bulk mail

A Fundraising Preference Service nevertheless holds attractions, not least of which is its ‘clean slate’ approach in an era where charities need to show that they are ahead of public opinion, not trailing it. And we would argue that is where the public is at: look, for example, at the current debate around ad blocking on mobile devices (in response to websites treating readers as objects to monetise), or the increasing awareness of the value of personal data on the web.

What next?

Some people will wish to reset their relationship with charities through the Fundraising Preference Service. We do not know how many: 30,000 may be a floor or a ceiling.  Either way, sign-ups would represent a legitimate desire on the part of those registering to take control of their affairs.

Many have today remarked the devil will be in the detail. I will explore this in part 2. We will undoubtedly need the support and insight of fundraisers to make this proposal work.

In an ideal world, people wouldn’t feel the need to register with the proposed Fundraising Preference Service: fundraising would inspire and encourage people to stay in touch. We are not yet in that world.

Our hope is that the wider proposals in this review will once again reconnect charities with their supporters, and rebuild the confidence of the wider public. Nothing would please the Review panel more than the Fundraising Preference Service not being used because people are happy with the way in which they are asked and happy with the level of fundraising they encounter.

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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding, Director of Public Policy and Volunteering, leads NCVO's volunteering, policy, research and campaigning work in the UK and internationally. With lead responsibility for shaping the external environment for the voluntary sector, he blogs about the big issues facing voluntary organisations.

10 Responses to Regulating Fundraising for the Future: a Fundraising Preference Service

  1. Robin Fisk says:

    Why have a new device just for charities when there already measures in place to stop it happening in the first place (MPS, TPS, opt-ins etc)?

    What we need is to ensure that any organisation – charity or otherwise – is penalised for not playing by the rules we currently have, rather than creating new ones that make it harder for charities to promote their cause than it will for commercial organisations to sell their products.

    • Karl Wilding Karl Wilding says:

      Robin,
      The review has recommended the device because it has been argued that those measures are not working. We have also heard that the public want such a service.

      I would argue that charities are not the same as the for-profit sector. We are afforded special privileges by law and in the minds of the public; as such we are bound to higher standards than the for-profit sector. And just because other sectors have failed to put in place self-regulation to address their own failings it does not mean we should follow them.

  2. Adrian Sargeant says:

    Its interesting that NCVO only pops up and engages with an issue when it attracts media attention. Many sector commentators have been calling for a strong regulator for years and been point blank ignored by NCVO and others. It is now a little ironic that Karl says the public have lost patience. Where was he last year and the year before that?

    That annoyance aside the only argument for a FPS seems to be the clean slate argument. But Karl and NCVO forget who they should be serving here. Yes, we should certainly ensure that vulnerable people are not exploited for the purposes of fundraising – but equally we must ensure that vulnerable have the right to have someone stand up for them and ask for support for them when it is genuinely needed. No-one seems to have identified the irony in what is proposed. And do we really want to live in a society when it is acceptable that someone would say “I never want to be asked to support someone in need ever again – no matter how pressing, urgent and relevant that need might be in my community? By all means opt out of forms of communication you don’t like. But a blanket ‘don’t trouble me again with the needs of others?’ – Shame on you NCVO

    • Karl Wilding Karl Wilding says:

      Adrian
      Our current policy work load includes the comprehensive spending review, charities and business rates, social investment, the regulation of campaigning by charities and the role of voluntary organisations in public service delivery. I shall leave it for others to decide whether NCVO only addresses policy issues that gain media attention.

      On whether the public have lost patience, Adrian is well aware that when I joined NCVO in 1998 one of the major work areas of my team was public trust and confidence, resulting in the giving with confidence work. We reviewed fundraising regulation 5 years after the 2006 Charities Act. A quick search of the web will unearth these. Or maybe you could ask charities who have heard me deliver my ‘Road Ahead’ speech over the last year.

      On the protection of beneficiaries, I suggest those interested in the proposals read the report, which clearly states that a better balance must be sought between the right to ask – in support of beneficiaries – and the right to be left alone.

      Suggesting that a service would result in someone never being asked to support a charity again is a misreading of our proposals. As I have said in the blog above, much of the detail remains to be worked out and I suggest that you engage with this detail rather than scaremongering on the basis of the principles I have outlined above.

  3. When we are at a time of focusing on donors I cannot understand why a Fundraising Prefence Scheme is launched. For donors it is not about fundraising it is about how donors want to be asked for money. Surely it should be the Giving Preference Scheme for donors.

    • Karl Wilding Karl Wilding says:

      Richard, I’m not quite sure what your vision is here – genuinely interested to hear more. Would you also have a solution for those who aren’t donors (or no longer wish to be) would want a service that helps them to communicate their preferences easily and quickly?

  4. Niamh Neville says:

    I am genuinely interested in the public consultation of the fundraising review and what data was accessed? What was the public representation, because if we are talking about 22 responses to the consultation then it’s a very small sample and certainly not all non-fundraisers.

    On the FPS my main issue is implementation, it could be prohibitive for smaller charities to have yet another suppression list and fundamentally it starts from a standpoint that charity communications are to be avoided.

    Were there a service whereby potential donors could give information on genuine preferences – type of charity, preferred method of giving, of channel it could be viewed as pre-qualified leads and actually potentially useful. We could even allow a one strike approach – charities can contact someone once and then be excluded from further contact easily. I haven’t really thought it through but I am dismayed by the negativity of the whole process. The problem is that some charities haven’t been listening to supporters and as a sector there’s a long way to go to demonstrate impact and inspire people. So this could potentially be used as a positive. We are starting from a standpoint of preventing access whereas we should be inspiring engagement and actually listening to what people what not what they don’t want.

    • Karl Wilding Karl Wilding says:

      Niamh
      The back of the report has a list of those who took part in the consultation. In an ideal world there would have been more time to undertake something more extensive, but in order to meet the deadline the secretariat were ultimately limited in what they could achieve.

      As regards a representative sample of public opinion – well, NfP Synergy reckon trust has fallen; You and Yours polled the public last week regarding whether they felt pressured by fundraisers. I would suggest that to conclude there isn’t a problem out there would ignore the voices of a significant minority.

      On FPS – yes, the issue now is implementation. The Panel were very clear that they did not wish to damage fundraising by small charities in particular, just as Lord Hodgson did not wish to in his recommendations in the last major review.

      I’ve written one blog about FPS and have promised another with more of the detail that we worked through on implementation; though ultimately this will be the responsibility of the new fundraising regulator.

  5. Sarah Smith says:

    Hi Karl,

    I’d be really interested to read your promised second blog piece on the implementation of FPS. When will this be published? Do you have any details yet on how the sector will be consulted about implementation, and is there a way to get involved in that?

    Sarah

    • Karl Wilding Karl Wilding says:

      Hi Sarah
      Yes, I did intend to write a follow-up post, but I haven’t had the time, primarily because I’ve been going out and talking to fundraising charities about the review. As a result of those conversations I’ve now changed my mind and instead think that my thoughts on how it could work will preempt a more formal approach to taking forward FPS. More on that imminently.
      Karl