Disasters Emergency Committee expresses concern over Fundraising Preference Service

Committee has written to government on behalf of 13 member charities, saying FPS could hamper efforts to raise money for unforeseen emergencies

DEC raising money
DEC raising money

< This story has been amended; see final paragraph 

The Disasters Emergency Committee and its member charities have written to the government to express concerns about the effect the proposed Fundraising Preference Service could have on emergency appeals.

The DEC, which launches emergency appeals for major humanitarian disasters on behalf of 13 international development charities, confirmed that it sent a letter about its concerns to government ministers in November.

A spokesman for Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, said he received a copy of the letter, sent on behalf of the DEC’s members, which include Oxfam and Tearfund.

Jane Pleace, director of fundraising at Tearfund, told Third Sector the charities were worried that the new service, which is expected to be launched in less than a year’s time, could put hurdles in the way of people responding quickly to emergency appeals.

"With the new FPS, we would have to screen all of our data to check that every supporter had actively opted in within the previous 12 months and said ‘I agree you can continue communicating with me’," she said.

"Running that sort of data screening process would at the very least add perhaps half a day or longer to the process of sending out an appeal to our supporters. Experience shows us that the faster you can ask people, the more likely they are to respond."

She said the charities had asked several MPs – who she declined to name – to consider making an exception for emergency appeals and that negotiations were taking place about whether that would be an option. "Nobody has said the door is closed and that they wouldn’t definitely consider that," she said.

Tim Hunter, director of fundraising at Oxfam, confirmed that his charity had been involved in the discussions. "The issue of timescale for consent is clearly critical given that we can't know when the next big emergency will happen," he said.

A spokesman for the DEC said: "The DEC always seeks to follow fundraising best practice and supports fundraising reform. We are in contact with key actors about the FPS because we are concerned about the service’s potential unintended consequences on future DEC appeals."

The DEC would not comment further, saying this was because the letter was private.

Wilson’s spokesman also declined to comment on the matter, saying the minister had handed responsibility for the implementation of the Etherington review – which first proposed the FPS – to the new Fundraising Regulator and a working group was currently establishing the details of how the service would work.

George Kidd, who chairs this working group and is a board member of the Fundraising Regulator, confirmed that he had met the DEC.

"We know their work, the different timeframes in which they operate and their concern," he said. "That said, the DEC is not alone in having a concern and unique characteristics."

He said the group would gives its recommendations to the regulator, which would ultimately decide how the FPS would operate, but if there were numerous exemptions and limitations to the service, it might lead the public to conclude that it was not working.

A member of the working group, Stephen Lee, professor of voluntary sector management at Cass Business School, said he did not support the idea of the charities being granted an exemption.

"Everybody wants to be excluded because it gives them a competitive advantage over other charities," he said. "If you give one exemption, you will have everybody arguing for one and every charity branding their appeals as emergency appeals.

"If these organisations are doing things as they should be, they will have the necessary consents to contact people at short notice without any problems."

Lee said some of the charities asking to be excluded from the FPS were the same organisations that brought the sector into disrepute last year.

A spokeswoman for Save the Children – whose chief executive and chair was called to give evidence to a parliamentary inquiry into fundraising practices last year – did not deny that the organisation was involved in the discussions. 

A spokeswoman for the British Red Cross also did not deny her organisation was involved in the discussions.  

Both charities referred Third Sector to the DEC for comment.

< The original story said that the DEC and its members had asked for an exemption from the FPS for emergency appeals, but the DEC says this was not the case. It says it had only asked the government to consider the consequences of the FPS on DEC appeals. 

- The article said the British Red Cross was also called to give evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into fundraising practices. 

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