The Fundraising Preference Service conversations: Food for thought

george-kiddGeorge Kidd is chair of the Direct Marketing Commission and chief executive of the Online Dating Association. He was appointed as chair of the Fundraising Preference Service Working Group in Autumn 2015. Previously George was chief executive of PhonepayPlus, the national regulatory body for the ‘premium-rate’ phone-pay phone content market and a director in the Cabinet Office, responsible for regulatory policy and practices.

 

For the last five or so weeks the Fundraising Preference Service Working Group has been talking and listening – mostly listening!

We put out ideas on the key issues for a FPS and asked stakeholders what they thought. The response was incredible. We have received close to 150 responses to the conversation document, as well as meeting with nearly 100 charities, campaigners, educationalists, technology businesses, representative and standards bodies and people with a particular expertise in issues around vulnerable users.

We also set up a series of focus groups testing what the public might think in terms of the coverage and scope of a service. The key question being: what would they expect it to deliver?

There are a number of key issues that have emerged, and each is closely linked to the other. It is also clear that many policy questions have operational implications that need to be considered. Here are the recurring themes that we have discussed throughout the process so far.

User choice

One of the most important points is the need to ensure an appropriate ‘user journey’ for those coming to any FPS – the service needs to deliver what users want. Do they want to stop nuisance calls or junk mail generally rather than fundraising as an activity? Or is a user’s problem with one particular organisation? In both cases what is needed is sign-posting, not an FPS registration.

For those who do want to go ahead and register we are looking at what can be done to make it as clear as possible what choices people have, and what registration will and will not stop by way of communications. The suggestion of issuing some form of ‘receipt’ has been broadly supported.

This goes to the issues of ‘granularity’ and scope.

Granularity

By ‘granularity’ I mean the extent to which people can decide to exempt favourite charities and other bodies from a general registration.

Scope

With regards to scope, many have argued that fundraising is fundraising regardless of the size of the entities involved. Others argue that the problems are caused by high volume data-driven activity by the larger players.

From a practical point of view we certainly see difficulties in smaller entities checking small – perhaps local – campaigns against an FPS. And there are real difficulties in how an FPS system could be populated with the names of tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of entities to allow registrants to pick out those they are happy to get fundraising communications from.

Fundraising communications

Our proposal is that the FPS should only apply to fundraising communications. But of course that leads to the questions:

  • What is defined as a fundraising communication?
  • Could FPS be restricted to direct ‘asks’?
  • Should it be as broad as the ICO’s definition of direct marketing?

We are suggesting a third way, based on the thought that all communications have a ‘purpose’ – where the purpose of a communication is to raise funds from recipients, then the FPS would generally apply.

Taking a simple example it might be argued that a simple message of thanks following a donation is expected and mannerly. And is that different to a sporadic message of thanks to supporters with campaigning news and encouragements to give again? Both are technically saying thank you, but one certainly has the feel of a fundraising communication.

FPS vs TPS vs MPS

The FPS is self-regulatory. This goes to an important point about the nature of an FPS registration in relation to the ICO, PECR and data protection rules.

Registering should end fundraising communications, but it won’t replace the giving or withdrawing of consent as defined by ICO and in relation to individual entities. The FPS is not there to mirror (or replace) the TPS or MPS, or to give effect to rules that fall within the ICO’s responsibility.

Channels

In terms of communication channels there was a view that we should be dealing generally with individuals, not households, and that we should focus on the core mainstream channels:

  • mail
  • telephone (landline and mobile)
  • text
  • and email.

Almost all agreed it was not necessary or practical to address social media. Although it is likely to become an important platform and will be increasingly used, it is already set up to enable users to easily opt out and unsubscribe from contact.

Views varied on door knock activity. But the majority view is that, although it can be intrusive, it is seldom done and there are ways of preventing it (such as the ‘no cold calling stickers’ introduced by the Code of Fundraising Practice).

Vulnerable people

The concept of a mechanism to protect vulnerable people from overwhelming fundraising requests is the one that has the strongest support. But it is also the most problematic: in particular there is a danger that we end up inventing definitions and processes wholly out of line with existing legislation, or we create confusion around the rules on power of attorney. So even though there is sympathy for the wish to step in and protect family members and friends, this can only be done on the basis of established practice and law.

Time limits

The importance of ensuring that data is accurate and up to date inevitably raises the question of whether FPS registration should be time limited. The alternative would be to provide registrants with accounts and log in details, with the need for them to continuously access and amend their preferences.

On that basis we are giving careful thought to suggesting the regulator set a time limit on any individual registration. That might – and I stress might – be two years. And that is not to say FPS should have an end date. In particular, an FPS could still have special value for those who think themselves vulnerable and those with powers of attorney.

In the meantime, people who have registered on FPS may choose to re-engage with an organisation and give fresh consent to receive fundraising communications. It should not be a problem for the organisation to keep a record of this new consent and be able to demonstrate it if there was any question afterwards about why fundraising communications were being sent.

Culture change and a move to ‘unambiguous consent’

The need for people to register on FPS will be hugely affected by both the practice of fundraisers at that point in time, but also the legal and regulatory rules that will be in place at different points in the future. But new laws and rules about the quality of consent that everyone, including fundraisers, must have before communication could dramatically reduce the need for people to seek refuge though an opt-out mechanism like the FPS. This is an important point that the conversations have helped bring into better focus. And it is something we will highlight as we do further work on our report to the Fundraising Regulator.

What next?

The working group has already met to discuss the feedback received and see where there may be consensus on the best way forward. Our plan is to draft recommendations so we can report to the board of the Fundraising Regulator before the summer. But we will need to carefully consider all the questions raised above before we move on to draw up final recommendations.

 

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