FPS unworkable for majority of charities, says software company

The provider Blackbaud says it has 'grave technical concerns' about the scheme

Telephone fundraising
Telephone fundraising

Only a small handful of charities have the technical capability to fully screen their data against the Fundraising Preference Service, the charity software provider Blackbaud has warned.

Commenting on the Fundraising Regulator’s final proposals for how the FPS should work, which were released for consultation last month, John Bird, managing director of Blackbaud Europe, told Third Sector he had serious concerns about its technical workability.

"Forget the ethical debate," he said today. "I have grave technical concerns about its viability and the sector is being dragged into it."

Bird expands on his view in a consultation response, dated 26 September, in which he says that the FPS represents a data processing challenge for charities that resembles virtually no other process they currently follow. "Few, if any, have the tools available to meet it," he says.

He continues: "It is my view that with the best will in the world, a combination of technical and logical barriers will prevent all but a small handful of organisations being able to fully screen their data against the FPS list, as the proposal currently stands."

He says that it would be wrong for the regulator to assume that in the time available – five months, according to the regulator’s latest forecast – and with the guidance currently published, that charities would be able to comply with the service using their existing tools and knowledge.

Bird says that if only 0.5 per cent of the population were to sign up to the service, charities would need to screen their data against a list of 250,000 external contacts, which he says would require IT expertise to understand how to move data and keep it secure. "This is no small challenge for many charities, even of a medium size," he says.

"However secure the file transfer format, ultimately large volumes of public information will be held and processed outside of this format in a large number of charities. This must be a concern for all involved."

He says charities would need to export their entire CRM databases into an "intermediate environment" to screen their FPS data and that most charities would not have the software tools to create such an environment.

He says that while it might seem like a good option for charities to only check any changes or additions to the FPS in order to make the process more manageable, this would not work because if a charity acquires a supporter who was already on the FPS, that supporter would not appear on an FPS changes file. "Therefore the entire FPS list would need to be screened each time," he says.

He proposes that FPS data should instead be exposed only via an API – functionality which would automatically access the data without it having to exist on charities’ servers. He says the API should be available to technical suppliers as well as charities so they could build solutions to help their clients.

The regulator had previously said that the FPS list would not be shared directly with intermediaries subcontracted by charities.

Bird calls for the regulator to give the sector an "absolute minimum" of 12 months from the publication of the API details before compelling charities to comply with the service as he says they are unlikely to be in a position to do so before then.

The regulator’s consultation ends on Friday.

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