In 2006 I designed and built a fundraising preference service, called MyLetterbox, entirely at my own expense. Working well into the early hours over several months, I developed the service in response to the last round of donor dissatisfaction with charity communications and the general media outcry at the time against junk mail.
I was concerned that donors were getting frustrated by the policy of charities being encouraged to swap and mail each other’s donors. Existing donors were becoming over-targeted while potential new donors were being ignored. I knew that charities could retain the same value of donations from each campaign and increase their returns on investment by removing from each mailshot those 20 to 25 per cent of people who would never support that particular cause.
At that time, charities did not take the service forward as they were worried that it would decimate their potential mailing volumes. I have therefore operated it for the past decade, at no cost to charities or donors, as an in-house suppression service within my consultancy REC Data Direct. I have encouraged anyone who asks to be removed from any charity mailing to use it.
Everyone who registers with the service does so as a result of receiving a mailing or contact from one of our charity clients which they do not want. However, only 28 per cent of these people elect to stop all mail. More than 70 per cent just stop the particular communication which they did not want, with 40 per cent of people electing to stop unaddressed mail received through their doors. Overwhelmingly, the service is liked by those who use it, with numerous comments confirming that it is easy to use.
In January, I emailed Lord Grade, chair of the Fundraising Regulator, which is working to launch a new Fundraising Preference Service. I made him aware of myletterbox.co.uk and offered it to be taken over as the official FPS at a cost of just £350 per charity - just a tenth of the £3,000 to £4,000 the regulator proposes to charge charities for the service.
I agree with the regulator’s assessment that it cannot set up a national service of this kind on a shoestring, but I have already developed a service of this nature and have borne the not inconsiderable set up costs. They do not therefore need to be borne again, particularly as it will be donors – the very people the service is being set up to help – who will have to pay for them.
I have told the regulator that MyLetterbox will make any changes required to the service at our own expense. Despite this, the regulator has not had any conversations with me about the service although, following pressure from my MP on Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, it has agreed to have a video conference with me in the coming weeks.
The regulator is asking charities to find £3,000 to £4,000 per year for an FPS that will not have anywhere near the granularity of a system which already exists and will not be ready until April 2017. Our system could already have been operational for the past eight months.
The regulator will be taking its final decision on the service at a board meeting in November, the outcome of which will be very interesting. I can’t see charity donors or the media being happy if they decide to build a brand new service at 10 times the cost of an existing service!
To me, that would mean that the regulator had fallen at the first hurdle.
Nigel Readhead Eyre is managing director of MyLetterbox and principal at the fundraising consultancy REC Data Direct.