Reviewing the FPS: from a big red button towards a ‘win win’?

Green button on keyboard

Daniel Fluskey | 19 December 2016

Earlier this month the Fundraising Regulator announced its decision on a way forward for the Fundraising Preference Service. IoF Head of Policy and Research, Daniel Fluskey, takes a further look.

I think they’ve adopted a good and sensible approach. Gone is the ‘big red button’ which would stop all charities being able to send fundraising communications to an individual who signed up. Instead, the service will allow individuals to name any specific charity or charities that they no longer want to hear from.

This was a key recommendation that the IoF made in response to previous consultations on the FPS and that we have discussed with the Regulator over the last few months. The concern which arose time and again in discussions with our members was that of a ‘single reset button’ and that as a result members of the public might unintentionally lose touch with charities they care about and would be happy to support. This would have inevitably cut off people from causes they want to hear from, and led to less money being donated to charities by the public.

I’m glad that the Regulator has heard these concerns and chosen a different path. I think credit should go to their Board for looking at the FPS with an open mind and giving due consideration to a range of different options. Given the momentum behind a single big red reset button proposal, it was a bold decision to pause and listen to views that this might not be the right option. At the IoF, we worked with our members to highlight and illustrate the true extent of the unintended consequences that the single reset button would have for charities, donors, and the wider public. We were very pleased that after we made these points, both though the formal consultation process and specific representations to the Regulator, they supported this view and changed course.

The Fundraising Regulator is clear that their first duty is to the public – which is absolutely right. But it is welcome to see that the ‘public’ includes those who support and donate to charities. The proposal now adopted looks like being the nearest to a ‘win win’ scenario. Members of the public who may feel that they are getting too much contact form charities have a quick, simple and straight forward way to stop approaches, but at the same time the relationship between supporters and the charities they care about is maintained.

‘All comms v direct marketing’

However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Since the initial announcement from the Regulator, there have been two further clarifications about the FPS. The main point of contention is around what kind of communications the service will cover. Does ‘all communications’ – as set out in the initial announcement mean ‘ALL communications’? Many feared this was the case, but thankfully it is not.

In a subsequent article Stephen Dunmore, CEO of the Regulator, confirmed that the FPS would adopt the same definition as the ICO does for ‘direct marketing’. So, it’s not ‘all’ communications, but all direct marketing material. He was also clear that the Regulator recognises that “there may be a need for a charity to communicate for other administrative or service reasons.” Again, this is a positive step and the Regulator seems to be taking a sensible approach here, even if some of the finer detail is still to be worked out.

 

What’s in a name?

Some are calling this a ‘Charity Preference Service’ rather than a ‘Fundraising Preference Service’. and that is probably a more accurate reflection of what we’ve got. What it does – and we should remember this – is reflect the law as it already stands: the ability to stop direct marketing is a legal right that individuals have. It’s not a new thing. This preference service essentially is a tool that anyone can use to exercise that legal right.

Yes, it is only for charities, not for every organisation or sector, but charities already go beyond the law and work to a higher standard than others – just because there isn’t a central system to enable individuals to easily ‘opt out’ from every company or organisation’s marketing, that does not mean having one for charity direct marketing is inherently wrong. We cannot and must not ignore what donors and the public tell us.

 

Still work to do

Absolutely fundamental to the success of the FPS will be the user-experience and the information provided to anyone who wants to use it. People must of course be absolutely clear about what they’re signing up to, what communications it will stop, and how it will work. Charities will need clarity too on how they are expected to integrate data from the FPS and know what communications they can send or not. The more involvement that charities and fundraisers have in this as it develops, the better.

It would have been preferable had the Fundraising Regulator included this potential way forward in the recent consultation to gather views on the pros and cons of this idea alongside the original proposition. It is important that people are asked the right questions and are able to fully respond with the relevant information and views to inform decision-making. Any lessons from this process should be taken on board as the Regulator prepares its consultation on the Code of Fundraising Practice in early 2017.

It has now been over a year since the idea of the FPS was first announced. While the process that has happened to get us here may not have been perfect, the Fundraising Regulator deserves credit for listening to feedback, taking its time, and recognising a different approach that is likely to work much better for donors, the public, and for charities.

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