Twenty challenges that the Fundraising Preference Service needs to cope with

1912 Athletics men's 110 metre hurdles final, with several of the men falling over.

Twenty challenges that the Fundraising Preference Service needs to cope with

Falling at the first hurdle? Joe Saxton points out the many challenges ahead of the Fundraising Preference Service, and poses some tough questions.

The Fundraising Review proposed the introduction of a Fundraising Preference Service (FPS). The detail on how this would work is very sketchy, but the basic idea is that a person could ask for all direct charity communications addressed to them to stop. This blog tries to explore how this would work and what the implications might be.

I have identified the challenges for the FPS into a number of areas.

Identifying the right people to exclude

  • Identifying the right people for opting-out. Anybody who has worked in supporter services will know the problems of identifying some individuals (there are a lot of J. Smiths in the UK). This matters because nobody should be excluded from charity communications by mistake or included by mistake.
  • Donors who are also volunteers or campaigners. It’s a fundraising preference service. So what about somebody who signs up to FPS but is also a volunteer and a campaigner. What communications should and shouldn’t they get?
  • A couple who have different feelings about charity fundraising. Currently the mail preference service and the telephone preference operate largely at a household level not an individual level. However it would seem unfair if the FPS did the same – what if I want to get charity communications but my wife doesn’t. I think the FPS would need to make this possible.
  • Donors giving to a charity after opting-out. If I opt into the FPS and then give to a charity and want to receive their communications again, how would this work. Does the FPS keep record of all my charitable loves and hates? The FPS needs to be able distinguish that although the general reset has been requested a particular charity can go on communicating with an individual.
  • People receiving communications on behalf of a group. Some communications may be on behalf of a group. So an individual may get the mailing for their PTA, Scout or Guide group. If that individual has requested to join FPS, the system needs to make sure their group communications don’t get stopped.
  • People who have different names at home and at work. The problem of identification is compounded by the modern world. People, most often women, have different names in their home and work lives. My sister is Dr Virginia at work and Mrs Ginney at home. So she would  need to make sure all that info is entered into the FPS.

And the right communications to exclude

  • Membership renewals.  So is a membership renewal mailing covered by FPS? Some memberships are fundraising vehicles and others aren’t. If membership isn’t covered, expect a lot of new membership schemes!
  • Cancelled direct debits. A donor cancels a direct debit and is signed up to FPS. Can the charity send them a mailing or call them asking them if they really meant to do that?
  • Storing all personal information. So if communications are to be stopped all the communications would need to be covered. So email addresses, home phone numbers, mobile numbers and postal addresses would all need to be collected. And would one match from one of these trigger ex-communication? E.g. if a charity discover that just a phone record matches with one of their records do they have to stop all other types of communications?
  • Differentiating between fundraising channels. Could a person decide to exclude just lottery communications, or just say no to telephone calls? Will the service have any way of distinguishing?

Getting the expectations right for both the public and charities

  • Misplaced expectations about what communications can be stopped. I can absolutely see the appeal of the FPS in a banner headline sense, but it still can’t stop many charity communications. Doordrops won’t stop as they are unaddressed, nor will face to face fundraising, or door-knocking.  Friends can’t be stopped from fundraising and so on. At best the FPS can’t be a universal panacea for the fundraising phobic.
  • One bad apple causing all charities to be cut-off.  I am a big believer in charities asking their supporters what they do and don’t want to hear about. The problem with the FPS is that it will make judgments, based on the worst performer in the class. Fed up with pens from xyz charity and a donor will sign up to FPS and the other 19 charities who they support will have been punished too. It’s hardly just. The UN outlaws collective punishment. The FPS won’t.
  • Deciding whether magazines, newsletters and updates are covered. I am sure somebody knows the answer to this but will a magazine with a fundraising ad be covered, or a newsletter telling donors about great fundraising, or an update that just smacks a bit of wanting a donation?

Understanding the impact on charities

  • Being sure that small charities have the database capabilities. Hopefully all of the previous points have made it clear that the FPS will need to be a pretty sophisticated service: distinguishing between people, communications and even the timing of donations. However many of those charities to be covered by FPS (spending over £100k on fundraising) will have never have run their database against the mail or telephone service because they don’t do cold recruitment that way. So they won’t have databases that can handle the kind of processes needed. What are they expected to do?
  • Can charities afford the de-duplication processes. The cost of the FPS would be high. Let’s imagine its costs £1000-1500 to send a database copy  off  for screening. That would probably need to happen 4 times a year. So that’s £6000 (plus irrecoverable VAT) a year of extra cost. And if there are 10,000 charities who are eligible… Well, you can do the sums. So fundraising costs go up and less goes to the cause.
  • What the likely loss of income will be. The loss of income will be way greater than the increased cost. If 25% of the giving public join FPS then that could mean that charities could see a quarter of their income from individuals disappear. On a fiduciary point could trustees really join a service which sees them losing a substantial chunk of their income? How could that be justified in governance terms?

And the impact on fundraising and comms on how it will change

  • Preventing a compensatory rise in street fundraising, doordrops and face to face fundraising. If substantive numbers of the public join FPS, charities will see their income fall. To compensate for this we should expect to see a rise in those types of fundraising which are not covered: doordrops, face to face fundraising, events, door-knocking and the like.
  • Or the creation of ‘fugging’. ‘Sugging’ is selling under the guise of market research. Once FPS comes we can expect ‘fugging’ – fundraising under the guise of campaigning or awareness or volunteers. Or should it be ‘fuccing’? [Ed. pronounced fū-ching, obviously]. Another unwanted ‘campaign’ mailing. ‘Fuccing fundraisers’, donors may say.
  • Then there is the Daily Mail campaign for sign-ups. It’s inevitable now that the media has got the bit between its teeth, that portions of the media campaign to get their readers to sign up to FPS. And they will probably persuade the public they are saving charities money.

If you weren’t yet worried about the FPS before reading this blog, hopefully you are now.


Submitted by Michael Hodgson (not verified) on 13 Nov 2015


I have to say, (and I admit, I get few charity mailings or calls), that I'd much rather have something comparable to enable me to opt out of the daily junk mail, junk calls, junk emails, spam emails, spam texts and scam calls I get from companies (sorry, multi-stream marketing communications from the private sector). Many of which I know are actually in breach of TPS and MPS regulations, and one of which comes from a company that shared my info illegally without permission.

Submitted by L Horton (not verified) on 13 Nov 2015


Excellent article. The FPS may be well intentioned but technically really difficult to implement. It needs high levels of marketing/direct marketing and digital skills, skills which are well reported as lacking in the sector, especially in small and medium charities. I wrote a blog along a similar vein and tried to get NCVO to take these points seriously but the response I got was, to say the least, condescending: I hope you have more success. On TV journalists have been saying, 'Oh you'll just go to the new FPS website, click a button and it will stop further charity communications'. This is creating expectations that can't be fulfilled (has the MPS/TPS been 100% successful, if so why are there so many scam calls/letters?). Recent damage to the sector has been bad enough, raise expectations then find that the FPS fails in a few years and the damage to the sector could be far reaching. This proposal really needs to go back to the drawing board and include input from professionals who understand address and data management.

Submitted by Donna Day Lafferty (not verified) on 13 Nov 2015


Dear Joe,

Many thanks for this witty post, I think you most powerful point is "we should expect to see a rise in those types of fundraising which are not covered: doordrops, face to face fundraising, events, door-knocking and the like."

I want fundraising to be an honourable profession. So sadly I don't feel the FPS is the solution either. It feels like a quick simple solution, but as you've illustrated it doesn’t address more than a fraction of the problem and potentially creates new ones.

We need to know what leads to bad fundraising: the organisational culture; the decision-making processes; the training; and the individual fundraiser's beliefs. Then we need to help trustees and managers to prevent bad fundraising by identifying the organisational change that creates respectful, thoughtful fundraising. It’s not a quick, silver-bullet solution.

The challenge is, as your research shows we have a problem of ‘trust’, and we need to solve it quickly. But beware all bullets, even quick, silver ones.


Submitted by Donna Day Lafferty (not verified) on 13 Nov 2015


P.S. and thanks for explaining what people mean when they say, ‘Fuccing fundraisers, I'd always felt I was trying to help build a better world and this response had confused me in the past : - )

Submitted by jonathan parris (not verified) on 15 Nov 2015


Precisely Joe. How can anyone seriously even suggest such an unworkable solution.
I gather the fundraising summit will enable the biggest charity chiefs to at least comment on the proposals. But many of them were consulted before the report. What about the thousands of other affected charities? Will they have no voice at all?
A few leaders have a hell of a lot of responsibility to their many peers this December. Let's hope they can act for the good of the sector this time around.

Submitted by Andrew Scadding (not verified) on 24 Nov 2015


Very interesting and informative post. I went away and did a few sums. 10,000 seems to be a reasonable estimate of the number of charities which might be involved. At an average of 4 mailings a year, that 40,000 file comparisons 109 every day (not working day). Clearly the FPS file might be be the most comprehensive active charity donor list ever compiled, so the file comparisons would be handled by FPS, I suppose. Given that in the past TPS/MPS comparisons have been mainly by the data bureau against an agency maintained file, data quality has not been an issue, but if FPS has to work with files produced in house by charities mailing actives it could be a real problem. All in all hard to see how FPS could manage a service which delivered timely results reliably - and there are no prizes for having your Christmas mailing land on January 10. Did Sir Stu actually do any feasibility assessment? Can this scheme actually work? It could be quite a challenge

Submitted by Mark Freeman (not verified) on 25 Nov 2015


Some good points Joe. There is also an issue about how it will affect smaller charities. Even if the funding limit is brought in will the public understand that? More likely they will think that they have signed up to end all fundraising requests and then not understand why they are still getting things from local organisations, this will lead to confusion and possibly resentment. I am afraid that NCVO have not thought about the impact on small organisations, or if they have not been able to address them. Once again this is the whole sector being punished for the transgressions of a few. Will it really raise public trust? I do not think so. What would raise public trust - a clear and public action against those that have crossed the boundary of what is acceptable (in the current good practice codes), publically punish organisations, make them return donations and possibly even remove their charitable status for persistent and significant infringement. I understand where the FPS has come from, I am just not sure it will achieve its aims, and in doing so will impact on charities ability to raise funds.

Submitted by Joe HC Saxton (not verified) on 27 Nov 2015


nfpSynergy and Rogare are holding a meeting on Tuesday 15th December at 3pm for anyone and everyone to come and discuss the fundraising review. All shapes and size of charity welcome. Its free to come. Cake and tea provided. Please pass the message on.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.