Fundraising Regulator retreats from 'reset button' on preference service

A statement released today says the Fundraising Preference Service will instead allow people to select charities from which they no longer want to receive communications

Direct mail: FPS statement today
Direct mail: FPS statement today

The Fundraising Regulator has rowed back on plans for the Fundraising Preference Service to allow people to "hit a reset button" on their communications with charities, saying that people will instead have to name specific charities from which they no longer wish to hear.

The regulator, which decided on a way forward for the FPS at a meeting of its board on 16 November, said in a statement today that the service would instead "enable individuals to select charities that they no longer want to receive any communications from".

The opt-out from specified charities will apply to all forms of email, text, telephone and addressed mail communication and will not just be restricted to fundraising communications.

Any sign-ups would have the statutory force of a Data Protection Act Section 11 notice to cease direct marketing, the regulator said.

The advantage to charities of this approach is that it would not only reduce the likelihood of them being blocked by people, but also, as the regulator said, cover the costs of the service by means of the fee levied on the larger fundraising charities.

"Even if the levy had to be increased to cover costs, charities would not be faced with additional invoicing and fees to access suppression lists," the regulator says in its decision document.

"The board will keep charges under review, including whether some charge would be made to fundraising charities outside the levy."

In August the regulator had said it was planning to offer a "large red button" that would allow the public to block all charities from contacting them and a "small red button" to block selected ones.

But Gerald Oppenheim, head of policy at the regulator, told Third Sector today the regulator’s board believed an approach that blocked only specific charities was the most effective way to protect the interests of donors and recognise the concerns that charities had about the impact of an FPS on their fundraising.

He said the chosen approach was closer to a total reset than the options considered previously by the regulator because all charities would have to adhere to the system, including universities, Disasters Emergency Committee members and smaller charities, rather than just organisations that spent £100,000 or more a year on fundraising, which the regulator had proposed in August.

Charities that are blocked by people will receive notifications from the regulator advising them of the opt-out through a large automated system.

The FPS will be internet-based but with a telephone service to support those who are vulnerable or without access to the internet. They will be signposted to the Telephone and Mailing Preference Services where it is felt that these services might resolve their concerns.

The regulator said it would monitor the compliance of charities with the service and aimed to review its effectiveness on an ongoing basis.

Oppenheim said the regulator would judge the effectiveness of the FPS partly on the number of people who signed up, but he declined to say how many sign-ups would be considered positive.

In his review of fundraising self-regulation last year, Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, called for an FPS that would enable people to "hit the reset button" on the communications they receive from charities.

He said in a statement released with the regulator’s announcement today that the proposed FPS represented an easily achievable way to address the concerns of people who received an unmanageable number of requests.

"The sector’s action in reforming fundraising regulation and communications will mean that no one can accuse us of not having done everything in our power to reassure the public that we take their concerns seriously and are willing and able to respond," he said.

The Fundraising Regulator is now in discussion with potential suppliers about the procurement of the database and telephone service through a tendering process.

Oppenheim said he could not give further details as to kinds of companies that would be considered because this was commercially sensitive information.

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