Public Policy
Fundraising Preference Service (FPS) Consultation Response

Fundraising Preference Service (FPS) Consultation Response

Following consultation with our members in the UK, CASE Europe and Universities UK have submitted a joint response to the Fundraising Preference Service Working Group on the scope of the FPS and the impact its introduction will have on the education sector.

This is a joint statement was sent to the Working Group Chair George Kidd in April 2016 and is republished below.  

You can read more about CASE's public policy work in Europe here.

Dear George,

Thank you so much for the time you spent with colleagues from the education sector on 21 March 2016. As we said when we met, we are all committed to finding a way to improve self-regulation and re-build trust and confidence of the public in the fundraising work of charities. We are all happy to return and continue the conversation.

We are grateful for the opportunity to contribute further to the development of the FPS through this consultation. As discussed, educational institutions have demonstrated good practice in the area of fundraising. Simultaneously, from our experience and research we recognise that they have a number of specific characteristics that need to be taken into account should educational institutions fall within the scope of the FPS.

Alumni fundraising
Most fundraising by educational institutions takes place with their alumni. The relationship between alumni and their alma mater is different to that of the supporters of most other registered charities. Being an alumni is a permanent state of being. It does not depend upon any financial transaction, whether that be for membership subscriptions or donations, nor does it depend on there being any engagement or activity. Alumni may have no contact with their alma mater for years and it does not change their status.

Fundraising with alumni is also different. Contact is infrequent, unobtrusive and for a range of purposes that go beyond fundraising and marketing. There is no buying or selling of data, these are personal relationships to each institution. Furthermore, there is no outsourcing of contact, it is all done in-house (usually during campaigns by current students), as the relationship is so precious. There are also no incentivised techniques used in the calls. Rather it is about sharing information and excitement about what the institution is currently delivering or its ambitions to do more.

While designing the FPS, we want to find ways to avoid unintentionally harming valued relationships between alumni and their alma mater. In particular, we believe that many registering to the FPS may simply not realise that they are ceasing contact with their former educational institutions. Most members of the public do not understand that schools, colleges and universities are charities. As you know, the legal situation is even more complicated because although the vast majority of educational institutions are exempt charities some have needed to become registered.

We therefore suggest that there are strong reasons for excluding contact by educational institutions with alumni from the remit of the FPS. The very nature of the relationship between alumni and their alma mater is enduring and complex. At the same time, this drives good practice, requiring institutions to always protect personal details and fundraise in ways that are unobtrusive and mutually beneficial.

The suggestion that the FPS should apply solely to fundraising contact is something we welcome. We think that will help mitigate the risk that the FPS disrupts other forms of contact with supporters for all charities. We are also pleased with the proposal that those registering to the FPS should have an opportunity to indicate whether they still wish to be contact by certain charities or types of charities.

Should alumni fundraising fall within the scope of the FPS, we would really welcome opportunities to work with the working group to consider ways to ensure that those registering to the FPS are aware that educational institutions fall within its scope. It will also be important that individuals have an opportunity to indicate whether they still wish to be contacted for fundraising by their alma mater. As we discussed, a possible way to achieve this would be through the design of the FPS website and the guided process of signing up to the FPS.

The size of fundraising operations
The size of fundraising departments in educational institutions differs. For many, fundraising is a relatively small and new undertaking, developed at a time when government is putting pressure on educational institutions to diversify their funding streams and invest significantly in social mobility and third mission objectives. Particularly in this context, we would want to ensure that the FPS does not discourage new and small fundraising departments in educational institutions.

We think it would be appropriate, as the FPS consultation document indicates, to exclude small charities from the FPS due to the administrative burden it would place on their operations. We would welcome discussion on how small charities should be defined given the diversity of the charity sector. In our view, "small" should be defined in terms of fundraising operations and departments specifically rather than the annual turnover of a charity. This seems to be a fairer definition for charities for which fundraising constitutes a relatively small proportional of annual income and expenditure. In the context of educational institutions, this may ensure that small fundraising departments remain viable and sufficiently resourced.

One suggestion may be to define the size of a charity for the purpose of the FPS in terms of fundraising expenditure, in line with the definition used to tier payment for the new levy.

The interaction between the FPS and the TPS/MPS

We would also suggest that the working group carefully considers the interaction between the FPS and the telephone (TPS) and mail preference services (MPS), as well as the forthcoming EU data protection regulation. There is a risk that charities may be faced with the burdensome task of consistently checking their contact lists to both the TPS/MPS and the FPS, which would be confusing to both charities and to the general public.

A complex regulation landscape
We would urge the Fundraising Regulator to meet with the principal regulators from the education sector as a matter of urgency. Within the registered charity sector this is relatively straightforward, although as you appreciate within the education sector there are a number of different regulators depending on the type of institution and where it is within the United Kingdom.

In response to the specific questions raised within the consultation document:

We believe it is going to be hard to completely separate alumni communication from fundraising communication. Fundraising messages are often contained within general alumni communications. Here, it would be helpful to have clarification on whether the working group considers that undirected requests in a publication with a wider purpose (eg. a short call for funds to support a described initiative in an alumni magazine) are in scope.

Social media is becoming a major channel of communication and will increase in importance in the future. Its use is already rapidly expanding for general and fundraising communications. However, the individual does have substantial control over receiving messages (it is easy to block or leave groups) and so we believe regulation is not required or even possible here.

We do not believe that individuals should, or will want to, manage the fundraising communications they receive via a FPS. We also do not believe this approach will produce the outcomes sought.

Individuals should usually directly manage their communications with the organisations that are contacting them. This is the only way to ensure the donor, and the prospective donor, are at the heart of this relationship. One of the root causes of the challenges which led to the Etherington Review was the outsourcing of relationships.

In the meeting we had, you explained that any agreement with an individual dated after their registration on the FPS would supersede any details held on the FPS. That is logical. However, it does lead to the challenge that the preferences held on the FPS are always going to be out of date.
We are also doubtful that individuals will be sufficiently motivated to record their preferences. That is not human nature. We all act far more quickly and far more often when we need to take corrective action.

We do however see a use for the FPS if it was to register where charities had not adhered to the expressed fundraising preferences of an individual. It would be useful for the individual to be able to register that they do not wish to receive any fundraising communication from a charity on the FPS having tried unsuccessfully to do this directly with the charity.

If this approach was taken, we suggest that individuals signing up to the FPS should state whether they had tried to stop the fundraising communication directly with the charity. We believe that individuals would welcome this service, and it would lead to improved relationship management - especially of prospective donors.

This style of FPS would also be of value to the Fundraising Regulator. It would provide clear evidence of the charities where individuals did not feel their expressed preferences were being adhered to. The Regulator, like all of us, will have very limited resources to deploy and this register would be of great assistance.

We do believe it would be useful to provide users with a receipt. However, as detailed above, there should be a record of where individuals do not want to receive fundraising communication from a specific named charity.

If the FPS does become the register to record preferences which block unwanted fundraising communication from charities, then we believe it should also supersede the TPS/ MPS. It could then be the place where individuals could detail out their address, email or phone numbers and register that they do not wish to receive fundraising communication by one or more of mail, email, text or call from any named charity.

We do appreciate that for the FPS to supersede the TPS in relation to communication from charities this will require ministerial action, but we think that is possible to achieve.

It may be most appropriate for the registration of a preference to be for an individual and for a fixed period of time. Once that time lapses, individuals could be asked to refresh their preferences. This, in time, may provide opportunities for charities to re-connect with individuals in accordance with stated preferences. We believe this is important because being isolated in society is a dangerous situation, both for the individual and society.

As stated above, we believe there are strong reasons for contact between educational institutions and alumni to be outside the scope of the FPS and these should be considered by the working group. The institution is motivated to preserve and cherish relationships with alumni. The desire is to build a mutually beneficial relationship for the long-term, of which fundraising constitutes but a small part.

The education sector is very risk averse. There is no buying or selling of data. Contacts are not outsourced. Incentivising techniques are not used. There have been no reported problems in the education sector. There is also a complex legal framework with a wide array of principal regulators with which to work.

As a community we were disappointed, like everyone else, with the fundraising techniques that were revealed in 2015 as being used by some registered charities. We were pleased that the government decided to take action. However, we believe now is the time for the regulation to focus on the challenges which were uncovered. This should not unintentionally harm good practice and long-standing relationships. We look forward to engaging with you further in the coming months to develop an FPS that protects individuals and ensures good fundraising practice while avoiding unintended consequences.