Charities should be moving toward an "opt-in" system of fundraising, according to Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society.
Giving the opening speech of Third Sector’s Fundraising Week conference in central London this morning, Wilson said charities should be less concerned about the possible impact and requirements of the Fundraising Preference Service currently being developed, and more concerned about European data-protection legislation, due to come into force in 2018.
The General Data Protection Regulation, adopted this month, will from 2018 require all fundraisers to be able to show that all recipients of direct marketing have explicitly consented to receiving materials by actively opting in.
But Wilson said charities should start preparing now.
"There is European legislation coming along the track that will hit everybody in 2018 and there are some very sensible charities that have chosen to pre-empt that early and make that progress now," he said. "I would advise everyone to start moving towards that now."
He acknowledged that there was some ambiguity in the wording of the GDPR, but said: "At the end of the day it will be a much more rigorous regime of people having to opt in. How rigorous it is and which route will be taken are yet to be finalised – but people should start preparing."
Wilson said he understood why people in the sector were worried about the implications of the FPS, currently being consulted on, but the GDPR was the "bigger, more looming issue".
He warned that all charities should be taking action to combat the negative public feeling towards fundraising that came after the death of Olive Cooke last year and the string of negative headlines that linked her death to the huge volume of charity donation requests she had received.
Olive Cooke's family subsequently said charities were not to blame for her death.
Wilson said he was especially worried by data in YouGov’s Charity Reputation Research report, released in February, suggesting a significant number of people did not believe charities were taking the problem seriously enough.
"A very small number of charities can do a huge amount of damage to asking people to give to charities," he said.
"Unfortunately, it’s not just up to those charities that have done the wrong thing to put that right – although they should. The whole sector has to act together."
He praised the Fundraising Standards Board, which is due to be wound up and replaced by the new Fundraising Regulator this summer.
"I would like to commend the FRSB’s senior leadership for constructively engaging in the handover process and ensuring the new regulator will have the best possible start," Wilson said.
"All of you here today should have firm plans to register your organisation. This will show your commitment to supporting responsible, sustainable fundraising in the future.
"Regaining trust doesn’t need to be a lengthy process if we collectively act to build best practice. We’ll be able to rebuild relations with the public and win back their support."