In November 2020, the Fundraising Regulator published the results of an independent evaluation of the Fundraising Preference Service (FPS), the service that allows people to stop direct marketing communications from fundraising organisations registered in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is the first evaluation of its kind since the Fundraising Regulator set the FPS up in 2017.
The evaluation sets out recommendations to improve the FPS and provides a significant evidence base from which to take these forwards. We now have a better understanding of how the FPS is used by both members of the public and charities, and the important role it plays in protecting people who may be in vulnerable circumstances. The review cites several real-life case studies in which the FPS has helped people caring for someone with Alzheimer’s.
Maintaining public trust in fundraising
The evaluation found that the FPS is continuing to provide a vital backstop to support people in society who may be feeling overwhelmed by contact from charities. It also suggests that the service is an important part of the regulatory support structure that helps to maintain public trust, and ultimately strengthen fundraising.
More than 13,000 people have used the service to date – and a quarter of them are people acting on behalf of a friend or relative. The numbers show that people are accessing the service and it provides a valuable service to those who need to use it.
Our response to the recommendations
The evaluation set out nine recommendations for improving the FPS. Further details are below of how the FPS has been developed to meet them:
1. Seek to significantly reduce the cost of the service by investigating options for a minimal viable set up that is primarily aimed at protecting people in vulnerable circumstances.
We worked with our service provider to streamline the setup of the website, which has resulted in a 42.5% annual cost saving. This was realised by basing the requirements of the service on the actual usage rather than projected usage, which was considerably higher. These changes do not impact the website functionality or the security of the personal data it holds. We will keep the changes under review and reassess value for money at the end of our contract period (2025).
2. Consider how to ensure that third-party suppression requests made directly to charities are consistently managed and adhered to when there is reason to believe that the supporter is in vulnerable circumstances.
We have made changes to the FPS charity portal so that charity users can now easily see if a suppression request has been made on behalf of someone else. This indicates that there is a potentially vulnerable person involved, so that charities can ensure they deal with these requests swiftly. We are working with charities to further understand how we can help them consistently manage the suppressions they receive.
3. Investigate the feasibility of telling charities when the request has been made on behalf of a third party and include an optional text box that allows FPS users to inform charities why the request has been made.
Changes made to the charity portal enable charities to see when a request has been made on behalf of a third party. Our conversations with charities found there was not a straightforward way to collect further information about why the suppression was made that would work for multiple organisations (not all charity marketing databases can accept a free text box or have a field to input the reason why a suppression was made). Therefore, this was not taken forward.
4. Encourage charities and others to promote FPS to people in vulnerable circumstances.
We have developed digital marketing materials that are easily shareable on social media with wide audiences. We are also continuing to work with other organisations to promote the FPS to people in vulnerable circumstances. As part of our ongoing marketing campaigns, we will be highlighting to charities the importance of sharing information about the FPS with their supporters so that they can avoid sending direct marketing to people who do not want to receive it.
5. Increase the number of suppressions that can be made in a single online transaction to 10.
Members of the public, or those acting on their behalf, can now request that up to 10 charities stop sending them direct marketing in one online transaction. The previous maximum was three charities in one online transaction. People can still suppress up to 20 charities at a time by contacting the FPS via telephone.
6. Issue guidance to charities about what to do if they receive a suppression request via FPS from someone who isn’t on their database.
We have included further information on the Fundraising Regulator website to help charities understand what they need to do when they receive a suppression request, including if it is for someone not on their database.
7. Focus the regulator’s limited marketing budget on ensuring that the service can be found when someone is looking for a way to stop charity marketing, rather than by seeking to raise awareness amongst the general population.
We have developed a communications strategy, which targets people with a specific interest in charities, and people who may be caring for a friend or relative. This approach ensures that we are reaching people who may have a more immediate need to use the FPS.
8. Develop a more visible information page about the FPS that outlines what the service does and does not do. This could include general advice on ‘how to stop charity mail’ to help boost search rankings.
We have updated the Fundraising Regulator and the FPS websites with more information about what the FPS does and does not do and developed a simple animation explaining the service. Information about the FPS is now accessed via the main website navigation on the Fundraising Regulator website and the FPS public-facing FAQs include more details about the scope of the service.
9. Provide clearer information to the public about how and when to raise a complaint with the regulator if they think that their data may have been sold or swapped by a charity.
Additional information has been added to the FAQs on the FPS website to support members of the public if they believe their data has been sold or swapped. The Fundraising Regulator also has memorandums of understanding with other UK regulators, who we work with on issues of mutual interest. As such, we regularly work with the Office of the Information Commissioner, the lead regulator responsible for data privacy, on data protection issues.
Acting on behalf of someone who has died
In addition to the changes resulting from the above recommendations, we have also introduced a way for people to submit an FPS request on behalf of someone who has died. This follows many requests from people who want to use the FPS in this way. When charities access their FPS requests, those made on behalf of a deceased person are clearly shown so that these records can be handled differently to other requests.
Protecting vulnerable people
The Fundraising Regulator is committed to protecting members of the public, particularly those people in vulnerable circumstances, and equipping charities with the tools they need to protect them too. Operating the FPS is a vital means of doing this and we will continue to work with the charitable fundraising sector to make sure it can be easily accessed by anyone who might need to use it.