It is safe to say that the not for profit sector is swiftly heading up the proverbial creek without a boat never mind a paddle. After the devastating suicide of pensioner Olive Cooke in 2014, the Daily Mail began a media frenzy, in which it painted charities as the villain in this tragic case.
Stories unfolded of Olive receiving up to 180 letters a month, all badgering her for donations. This behaviour is not to be condoned and must be addressed, however, Olive’s family explicitly stated this had nothing to do with the tragic suicide.
Since then of course we have had Sir Stuart Etherington’s controversial Regulating Fundraising for the Future report. The NCVO chief’s recommendations started well enough by outlining sensible suggestions around the fundraising regulations. However, at the tail end of the review was a proposal recommending that there should be a control on how many communications a donor or prospective donor should get from charities – and like that, Stuart had lost my confidence.
The Fundraising Preference Service (FPS) suggested in this review, is now one of the biggest threats to charities. While I wholeheartedly agree that some regulations should be strengthened, a preference service is quite frankly ludicrous; especially when you consider that the only reason this is being suggested is because of the manhunt instigated by the Daily Mail.
At first, FPS positioned itself similarly to a suppression file, the idea of which was to stop targeting people who are never going to donate; until they appointed George Kidd to run it. What Kidd is suggesting is a yes or no question on whether or not people want to hear from charities. Asking a question like this may seem perfectly reasonable but I can assure you, it isn’t. Should it be enforced it could have devastating effects on the charity sector.
It doesn’t matter how leading or indeed misleading the question to potential donors is – when you ask a 50/50 question, you’ll get a 50/50 answer.
Last year, a piece of YouGov research asked the public what charities could do to restore confidence in the sector. Some 70% of people said contact us less, which I would suggest, justifies the claim that if you give them the chance, they will opt out.
In 2013, 72% of donations made to charities by the British public were a direct result of being asked. When I say ‘asked’, this means being sold to, caught in the street, donation boxes, telethons etc. This accounted for over £7bn donations; it’s fair to assume that at best 50% of that (£3.5bn) would not be raised if people opted out of being asked.
Charities quite simply cannot afford to lose £3.5bn a year and if Kidd has his way, charities will be forced to break their code of conduct and seek alternative and equally unfavourable channels to ‘ask’ such as door knocking, to make ends meet.
In the same study by YouGov, it was found that 78% would have their faith restored in charities if they were more transparent about how they were run. So why on earth are people still pushing for FPS? Clearly all the public want is open and honest charities, which is far easier and monumentally less damning for these organisations to deliver.
Lest we forget, charities exist to help people who need it the most. When budget cuts attack the most vulnerable, charities pick up the pieces. FPS doesn’t just have an effect on the not for profit sector, but the country we live in. It is quite simply wrong.
Mark Roy is chairman of REaD Group