The Fundraising Preference Service is a bigger threat to the sector than 'Give it Back George'

The FPS will lead to most charities being 'punished' for the bad behaviour of other organisations, writes Joe Saxton

Joe Saxton
Joe Saxton

The Fundraising Preference Service or FPS is a part of the Stuart Etherington review into fundraising. While I am in completely in favour of a beefed up ‘Fundraising Regulator’ and an independent Code of Practice I am completely opposed to the FPS as it stands.

Indeed the FPS is one of the biggest threats to charities and their future that I can remember. The idea behind FPS is that people will be able to ‘reset’ or stop all charity communications by signing up to the service.

There are many reasons why I think FPS is such a bad idea.

Firstly most charities will be ‘punished’ for the bad behaviour of other organisations. The scenario is easy to imagine: a donor is frustrated by too many calls or letters from particular charities so they sign up to FPS and every charity suffers. There is no reward for good behaviour – it’s a form of collective punishment.

Many donors will not realise all the charities that could be exclude by signing up: membership renewals, alumni communications, local charities, benevolent funds could all be collateral victims caught in the self-imposed regulatory factory fishing fleet of FPS.

It’s a fiduciary duty of trustees to maximise their charities income. I struggle to see how any trustee board could sign up to a service which would punish their charity for something they hadn’t done and reduce their income by an unspecified amount, ad infinitum. It’s contrary to charity law and the duties of trustees.

Many charities, small charities in particular, won’t have the databases to cope with the data demands of FPS. The cost, time and energy of database upgrade and compliance could prove to be enormous: £40-£60 million a year by my rough calculation in data processing alone.

It’s not even clear how the logistics of it might work. Can a husband and wife choose to get everything and nothing respectively while living under the same roof? How does a donor opt in to get communications again from favourite charities? What communications are included – magazines, newsletters, campaigns. Etc. The list of ‘challenges’ goes on and on.

At a time of austerity any charity which signs up to the current proposal could see their income from individuals drop substantially – maybe by 25% or even 50%. This may seem like hyperbole but nearly half of all the households in the UK are signed up to the Telephone Preference Service. And wait till the Daily Mail starts encouraging its readers to sign up.

There is a solution: a very easy solution. FPS should let donors specify which charities they want to opt out of hearing from, rather than a blanket opt-out. So a donor fed up with a charity who mailed, called or emailed too much would opt-out of their communications, but no others.  By opting-out of specific charities, donors would give a clear message about the fundraising practices of those charities they didn’t like. A league table could be produced which has the effect of naming and shaming bad practice. Those charities who built great relationships with individuals shouldn’t be affected.

As its stands I would advise every charity not to take part in the FPS. From all that I have seen FPS could make the proposals on gift aid that created ‘Give it back George’ look like a tea party. Yet this time the sector is inflicting it on itself: at what point does self-regulation become self-harm.

Joe Saxton is the founder and driver of ideas at the research consultancy nfpSynergy

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