A fundraising preference service that works for fundraising?

A fundraising preference service that works for fundraising?

Daniel Fluskey | 10 November 2015

Since the publication of the review of fundraising regulation, an area which has sparked particular attention, interest, and discussion is the recommendation for the new fundraising regulator to establish a ‘fundraising preference service’. The Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson has championed the idea and a working group will be set up to review and consider what the new regulator should implement.

What do we mean when we talk about a fundraising preference service?

Some of the reactions and debates have been pretty robust, with strong opinions on all sides of the debate. The breadth of the discussion is understandable – the FPS at the moment is an idea that has been proposed, but without the detail needed to be able to properly understand and consider its model, merits and implications. What communications would it ‘reset’? Does it override direct relationships and existing donors, or just unsolicited communications? For all channels? What counts as a fundraising communication? What’s the relationship with the Mailing Preference Service? Without more detail, discussion in relation to an FPS being introduced and on what basis is like trying to describe a colour you haven’t seen. So the first step is to start asking these questions.  

The variety and strength of views are unsurprising, and should be welcomed: the importance of the issues being discussed goes to the heart of what kind of environment we want for fundraising. It’s about the ability to ask for and raise money in a successful way that is inherent to maximising the work charities can do for their beneficiaries, while ensuring all members of the public are treated fairly, those in vulnerable circumstances are protected appropriately, and that public trust in fundraising and charities can be increased.

The fact that it’s got people talking shows that people care, that it’s important, and that getting the right outcome is crucial to the long-term sustainability of fundraising. No one individual or organisation has the monopoly on what ‘the right answers’ are on setting public policy, so we need the debate, we need the discussion, and we need the full range of views to feed in to the working group that is going to be set up to consider all this.


What do fundraisers think?

So, where is the IoF on this? Since the concept of an FPS was formally suggested by Sir Stuart Etherington, and considering all the questions above, we thought that we should ask our members to inform our position and approach. 550 of our members contributed to our survey to give us their thoughts which have been really helpful and thought-provoking to help us think through the issues.

From the members that took part, the key things that came back are:

* Donor choice is absolutely paramount: when considering what the best way is for donors to manage their preferences, 98% of respondents thought donors should have a choice over what they receive (whether through communication channel, or relationship they have with a charity), rather than just one option of a ‘reset button’.

* Consent from an individual should be respected: 80% of respondents thought that if an individual has given direct consent to a charity to be contacted by them, registering on any fundraising preference service should not generally override that consent and stop the charity being able to contact that individual.

Cold (‘unsolicited mail’) should be stopped: two thirds of respondents (65%) thought that registering on an FPS should mean that the individual no longer receives cold ‘unsolicited’ communications.

Our members also understand just how important it is for them to respond to the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances in order to ensure that fundraising is a positive experience for everyone. That’s why our members were involved in developing new Code requirements and guidance –Treating Donors Fairly – last year, and why so many respondents to our survey reiterated their commitment to finding an effective mechanism to protect ‘vulnerable’ individuals.

With that in mind, here are some thoughts from me about the principles which should underpin any discussions on a new fundraising preference service. As I said, no one has all the right answers, and I’m sure there will be things I haven’t thought of, better ideas, and differing points of view. Let’s hear them. Consideration; critique; interrogation and debate are what we need on this so we can create the best environment for fundraising on a successful and sustainable basis.  


Thoughts on a fundraising preference service

Modelled on the Mailing Preference Service

The Direct Marketing Association provides the Mailing Preference Service (MPS) as a self-regulatory mechanism to the direct marketing sector so that members of the public can stop unsolicited mail. While it stops ‘cold’ mailings it does not prevent mailings from companies ‘with whom you have done business with in the past’.

Any FPS should follow the same principles of recognising and respecting ‘existing supporters’ as the MPS respects ‘existing customers’. That means that registering with the FPS should stop cold or unsolicited mail, but not override consent given from an individual to a charity.

However, it could be that an FPS offers a more sophisticated function that allows an individual to choose the specific charities that they do not want to hear from. This way it again puts the donor in control and gives them a choice, but in a way that is likely to be better at responding to, and respecting, their preferences.

* Enable individuals to have the choice of what communications they receive

A FPS must be smarter and more attuned to people’s choices than only offering one option of a ‘reset button’.  People respond to different methods of communication in different ways. They may be happy to continue receiving emails and letters, but do not want to receive phone calls (or vice versa). Individuals should always have the choice of how they are communicated with.

Properly safeguarding ‘vulnerable’ people

There is a difference between a ‘preference’ service, which would be accessible to the whole population, and a safeguarding tool that protects ‘vulnerable people’. Careful consideration needs to be given as to what an FPS is trying to achieve and any model needs to work appropriately to achieve that outcome.

If someone is ‘vulnerable’, leading to a need for them to stop receiving fundraising or marketing communications, this should not be an issue specific to the charity sector; adequate safeguards and processes are needed across all sectors involved in marketing and selling. In such a case it might be perfectly acceptable for someone to be able to ‘reset’ communications with a number of specific organisations.

It would seem to be much more preferable for this to be a much wider initiative across different sectors to ensure individuals are treated fairly and the needs of vulnerable people are appropriately addressed. This cannot be done from the fundraising sector alone but should involve key stakeholders from different sectors as a joint initiative.


What do you think?

If you’ve made it through to the end (you’ve earned a cup of tea!), and want to let me know what you think, we’ve set up a discussion in our members forum for you to post your comments/feedback, or to ask questions. These views will then all feed into our Policy Advisory Board to help inform our input to the working group. I look forward to hearing them.


Alyson Wort, Martin House Children's Hospice | 19 November 2015

Thank you so much for highlighting that if vulnerable people are to be safeguarded this is not a charity specific issue but involves marketing and selling from all organisations. I am slightly weary of hearing so much said about this issue as if it only relates to charities. I get home from work most days to find messages on my 'phone from companies trying to sell me things or telling me I have had accidents when I haven't, cold mail on my doorstep again from companies trying to sell me things and catalogues galore where my details have obviously been passed on from companies I have previously bought items from.
Thank you also for attempting to bring some reason to the debate surrounding a FPS as I am one of many who feel that introducing a "reset" button would be the proverbial sledgehammer approach and would not achieve what donors are saying they want to achieve.

Jimmy James, Minerva Fundraising Consultancy | 24 November 2015

I have had all the bad experiences Alyson Wort outlines in her third sentence ! I agree with her that we need to avoid a sledgehammer approach to a delicate and complex problem that extends far beyond the charity sector.

Recent media and other reports indicate that the public is no longer happy with self-regulation - so it is open to question whether the Direct Marketing Association's Mailing Preference System and other existing regulatory services are the right vehicles to protect vulnerable individuals in the future.

The key point seems to be this: how do we protect vulnerable individuals from an "Olive Cooke" situation, whilst at the same time allowing charities - many of which provide vital services for vulnerable individuals - the widest opportunities to raise funds for their causes ?

The solution isn't clear - and is made more complex by the fact that many vulnerable people targeted via a raft of different communications are precisely those who find it difficult to "resist" unwanted calls and e-mails, and who may also find it challenging to navigate around existing systems for reporting and making complaints.

Our aim should be a fair and simple system which enables charity giving but protects vulnerable individuals; and while there is some light at the end of the tunnel, much more debate is needed to achieve the right solution.

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