Charity preference service under review as users slump

charities nThe Fundraising Regulator has confirmed it is planning to launch its first ever review of the Fundraising Preference Service within weeks, after the latest figures show just by 2,820 people have signed up to the scheme in the past year.

The FPS was launched in 2017 following a recommendation in the Etherington Review of fundraising self-regulation, published in September 2015. It allows people to block unwanted contact from specific charities by phone, email, text message and post, although they can only register three charities at a time.

According to the Fundraising Regulator’s annual report, published this week, the FPS received 8,719 suppression requests in the year to the end of August 2019, down from 19,583 in its first year of operation.

The service was used by 2,820 people in the most recent year, meaning that on average users were blocking contact from three charities each.

Writing in the annual report, Fundraising Regulator chair Lord Toby Harris said the purpose of the review was “to ensure [the FPS] has met its original aims and is delivering the most value”.

The report adds: “Following an evaluation of the FPS call centre operation in January, we found that this was not delivering value for money based on the level of calls we were receiving. From 2019/20 financial year, the FPS call centre will be managed entirely in-house by the Fundraising Regulator. This action has realised a saving of £17,000 per year.

“When the FPS was set up in 2017, we took the decision to review the entire service provision after it had been up and running for some time. This review will begin in January 2020. We will consult on the outcome of this review to establish whether the present system should continue beyond 2021.”

However, even before launch, many in the data industry had pointed out that the FPS was simply replicating the work of the Telephone Preference Service and the Mailing Preference Service. There are over 18 million numbers on the TPS and 6.4 million addresses on the MPS.

These doubts were reinforced by George Kidd, who was appointed to launch the service. He conceded that it was unlikely that the FPS would survive long under GDPR, predicting that the two regimes were unlikely to “travel together for a long period of time”.

At the time, Kidd said: “In a sense, having a preference service is a transitional product of the world we’re in now, which is not opt-in. So we have to think about whether we use the FPS as a transitional vehicle for getting to the right place.”

The regulator’s annual report shows that this “right place” might be fast approaching, with the number of complaints about charity fundraising dealt with by the regulator falling by almost a third this year, from 1,080 to 737.

It also completed 82 investigations into fundraising organisations this year and upheld 48 complaints.

Lord Harris said: “Since I became chair in January 2019, I have been impressed with the professionalism of the regulator which was only set up in 2016.

“It is more than four years since the cross-party review of fundraising self-regulation that resulted from widespread concern about how charities interact with donors and potential supporters, which led to our establishment.

“We now have an effective way of dealing with complaints and encouraging learning; there is a mechanism in place for the public to opt out of receiving unwanted communications; the fundraising standards are being systematically updated; we are able to offer specific, tailored advice and guidance to the public and charities; and we have a fair means in place for funding our regulatory effort.

“Charities have made excellent progress since 2016 and are working hard to build public trust and confidence in their fundraising activities.”

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