Mark Roy: Fundraising Preference Service - there has to be a better solution

Charities are running scared of the new Fundraising Regulator and its impending preference service, writes the founder and chairman of the Read Group

Mark Roy
Mark Roy

If there is one thing I’ve learnt in my 25 years in the data business, having provided preference services to both industry and consumers, it’s that the crux is the delivery. And I can safely say with regards to the Fundraising Preference Service that the government has catastrophically failed.

Charities are running scared of a new regulator, a voracious Information Commissioner's Office and an impending preference service that threatens to strip donors from fundraising databases. Charities don't know whether they are coming or going, and are doing anything in their power to raise funds without the use of data. Has anyone else noticed a resurgence of chuggers on our streets lately?

There has undoubtedly been a palpable change in fundraising practices over the past few decades – the battle for donations is becoming more determined and more driven. It seems that somewhere along the line some organisations have lost their moral compass and disregarded the huge compassion that exists for the sector. Unfortunately, it’s this lapse in judgement from a handful of charities that has led to the creation of the blunt-force instrument that is the FPS.

The fact is that this intense pursuit of funds exists because there are millions of people who are desperately in need of support. From debilitating diseases to domestic violence, there are so many who, through no fault of their own, are in dire need of a helping hand. Of course, this has only been compounded in recent years by significant government funding cuts to third sector budgets.

With this in mind, it would seem the very definition of madness to suggest a policy that would then halve the amount of money generated through fundraising. I can almost guarantee that will be the outcome when the FPS is introduced. It’s inevitable that the FPS, which will allow people to opt out of all fundraising requests fom charities, will be cataclysmic for the sector.

According to the online polling company YouGov, 72 percent of donations made to charities by the British public in 2015 came as a direct result of being asked. When I say "asked", this means being sold to, called, mailed, emailed, caught in the street, approached with donation boxes, urged on by telethons and so on. These accounted for more than £7bn in donations. My experience has taught me that if you ask a 50:50 question, you’ll get a 5:/50 response. If you ask a consumer "would you like to stop charities contacting you?", it’s fair and reasonable to assume that 50 per cent are going to say "yes". It must be equally fair, therefore, to assume that 50 per cent of that £7bn raised would no longer be raised. Charities quite simply cannot afford to lose £3.5bn a year; similarly, this country cannot afford for charities to be scuppered by such foolish and flawed ideas.

There is no denying that the sector needs to see improvements in its practices. Many charities have been getting it alarmingly wrong for an alarmingly long time. Some might argue that it’s been done in the name of good, but surely there is a better way. YouGov research recently showed that consumers agreed charities should change their ways, but by being more open, transparent and adhering to a code of conduct. Cutting contact was not a measure suggested by the UK public.

Let’s not forget this: charities exist to help people who need it the most. When budget cuts attack the most vulnerable, charities pick up the pieces, day in and day out. FPS doesn’t just have an effect on the charity sector, but also on the country we live in. There has to be a better solution.

Mark Roy is founder and chairman of the data communications agency REaD Group

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