On Tuesday 15th December 2015, nfpSynergy hosted an open meeting on fundraising regulation, together with the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy’s fundraising think tank Rogare (read their blog on the event here). The event was open to anyone from any charity of any size, and aimed to encourage debate on a topic which has hitherto seen few opportunities for fundraisers to meet and discuss: the Etherington fundraising review, particularly the Fundraising Preference Service (FPS). The afternoon offered an opportunity to ask questions, share knowledge, and think about next steps.
While ostensibly a measure to protect the vulnerable, the general feeling among our delegates was that FPS will instead interrupt crucial communications between charities and their supporters, initiating unintended consequences. Many expressed apprehension, feeling the repercussions will be largely negative.
One key issue is lack of clarity over details; basically, how this would work in practice. This includes questions like: What happens to a charity’s own databases? Are there different rules for existing donors versus potential donors? Will charities still be able to communicate with their current supporter base? Do you have to run your database against the FPS every time you want to communicate with supporters? Deciphering this level of complexity will be a mammoth task, both practically and financially.
Some of our delegates also observed how the voice of the beneficiary has been seemingly absent. FPS looks set to impact beneficiaries and services dramatically through potential loss of charity income. Yet calls for greater regulation have been made on the grounds this will protect people, particularly vulnerable people. What, then, of the harm caused to beneficiaries when charities face severely diminished funding?
The impacts of FPS won’t necessarily be uniform across the sector either. One participant warned that FPS “will destroy smaller charities”. With shrinking donor bases, smaller charities have to work twice as hard to replenish numbers. But as others pointed out, larger charities may also be more top of mind and therefore more likely to be named in a moment of general annoyance with the sector.
Something else to emerge was that delegates felt there is little clarity on whether charities will have a choice about partaking or not. Although we have been told we could have had statutory regulation, there is a feeling FPS will be compulsory anyway.
Amidst the doom and gloom, there were small moments of optimism. One participant suggested greater regulation might force the sector to change lazy/bad fundraising practices which do unfortunately exist. Having a single regulator may also mean having a better overview of the sector as a whole.
The final part of our discussion was focused on the question of what a workable FPS might look like. Our delegates suggested things like setting a strategy to change the public’s perception of charities, explaining how they work/what fundraising means. Another participant suggested charities create infographics to help donors understand what will happen if you decide to opt-in. Since clarity is certainly lacking at present, the sooner we get clearer on what FPS might actually mean for charities and their beneficiaries, the better.
Ultimately, the FPS is not a standalone issue. Given that we have opt-in looking likely to be compulsory from the European Commission and/or the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), and that the ICO is tightening up the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) and Mailing Preference Service (MPS), charities could face a triple whammy: FPS, opt-in and tighter existing regulation. This could drastically impact the health of the sector, perhaps why so many had such anxious looks on their faces at our event. In real terms, this spells disaster for beneficiaries.
Clearly, the road ahead is paved with potholes. Whatever’s next for the fundraising review it needs to start channeling feedback and paying better attention to practitioners who know best the strengths and challenges of current methods.
For a chance to offer your opinion, you can take part in this survey run by the Small Charities Coalition together with the Institute of Fundraising (IoF), open until 15th January 2016. At nfpSynergy, we’ll also be asking what the public thinks of FPS in our upcoming Charity Awareness Monitor research. What would you like to ask the public in regards to FPS, or fundraising regulation in general? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, call 020 7426 8888 or leave a comment below.