OPINION: Shame on those who are supporting the Fundraising Preference Service

The fundraising sector’s response to the proposed Fundraising Preference service has been ‘pathetically’ limp. Adrian Sargeant says all those who are endorsing it without any evidence that it is needed should feel ashamed.

What a summer it has been. The suicide of Olive Cooke and subsequent Daily Mail revelations doubtless made many of us question whether we were as proud to be fundraisers as last year’s campaign had supposed.

But as the dust settles and the Etherington report has been published, the sector is left in a very troubling space.

Thanks largely to the efforts of NCVO ceo Sir Stuart and his team of peers, our sector will now be the only sector of modern life singled out for special treatment in that individuals will shortly be able to opt out of ever receiving an addressed communication from a charity ever again ­– yes, ever again! And it is mooted that we should offer a full ‘reset’ facility so that at a stroke you can opt out from everything, even from charities you have supported for many years.

So we will live in a world when it will now be considered OK for someone to say:

“Never tell me about the needs of others in my community again…ever…So what if
people are suffering? I don’t want to know. Let someone else take care of it. How dare
you waste a nanosecond of my time forcing me to bin a communication I’m not
interested in. How dare you?!”

So great it seems is that irritation that we must now deprive hundreds of thousands of people of the opportunity to give and in so doing make a genuine difference to someone in need. Certainly that good comes at a cost, but are we seriously suggesting that a minor irritation to some should somehow trump the immediate and very real relief of human suffering?

Adrian Sargeant speaking“Why is it unacceptable to stand up and say to government: ‘No, you have this wrong about the FPS!’ If we won’t stand up and be counted on this most critical of issues, what will we ever stand for?”

Adrian Sargeant

It won’t matter what terrible disasters explode into our world or what appalling scenarios might be unfolding quite literally on a donor’s doorstep – we can’t raise any of it. Yet we can still be cheerfully inundated with curry house menus, offers of insurance we don’t need, mindless catalogues and a suite of financial service products we’ll probably never be suited for. And yes – you can bet that come election time politicians will still use every trick in the communications handbook, stuffing communications through our mailbox by the shed load and haranguing us daily into voting for them.

All that crap is seemingly OK – but asking for someone in genuine need of help is not. That certainly seems to be the view of NCVO and Rob Wilson, the minister for civil society. Well, shame on them.

The irony here of course is that the vulnerable people this measure was designed to protect will now find themselves without a voice. No-one will be able to put their hands up and ask for help on their behalf.

“Most businesses would kill for ‘customer’ satisfaction at the level we have found exists for charity donors.’

Philanthropy stands for many things. It is the vehicle through which we can continue to grow as human beings through the caring of others and the expression of some of the deepest senses of who we are. It is through giving we can nurture and express our values.

But philanthropy is about more. It is also concerned with the freeing of minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Governments are voted in by the majority to take care of the majority. Nonprofits, by contrast, stand up for the rights of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. People whose voices would not otherwise be heard. Sir Stuart, NCVO, and latterly our own professional Institute are now conspiring with government to silence those voices. The UK will cease to be a country where those in need can continue to expect that someone will speak out on their behalf and ask the public for help when they need it.


Show us the evidence why the FPS is needed

I have just concluded a study surveying over one million active donors and lapsed donors who, for whatever reason, have stopped giving. To my knowledge this is the largest survey of donor experiences ever conducted. The survey went out at the height of the furore in the summer and when there was much criticism in the media. So one might expect our results to be coloured by that.

“Nonprofits stand up for the rights of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. People whose voices would not otherwise be heard. Sir Stuart, NCVO and latterly our own professional Institute are now conspiring with government to silence those voices.”

Such surveys also tend to over-represent dissatisfaction as individuals with issues are finally afforded an opportunity to articulate their views. Yet against all this, our results indicate that around 91 per cent of the individuals we surveyed are either satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of service provided to them by the profession of fundraising. Most businesses and certainly the sectors I allude to above would kill for ‘customer’ satisfaction at that level.

So my challenge to Sir Stuart, the IoF and the minister is to present their evidence that there is a widespread and ongoing problem that must be corrected and crucially would not be corrected by all of the other measures it is already intended to take (creation of a new regulator, monitoring activity, all charities covered, shift to opt-in, etc). What evidence is there that it is necessary to go far further and create a preference service?

The FPS is an utterly disgraceful measure and the fundraising sector’s response, particularly that of our Institute, has been pathetically limp. Why is it unacceptable to stand up and say to government: ‘No, you have this wrong!’ If we won’t stand up and be counted on this most critical of issues, what will we ever stand for?

Shame on all those involved.

23 comments for “OPINION: Shame on those who are supporting the Fundraising Preference Service

  1. October 26, 2015 at 10:51 am

    Exactly right Adrian – data and evidence has never played a part in any of the attempts to ‘regulate’ fundraising in the charity sector. It is as though the public have to be protected from us nasty charities, standing up for those who have no voice, helping those worse off than others, bringing inequalities to people’s notice.

    The real problem here is that we shine a light into the darker corners of the world and society exposing truths that some just don’t want to hear. There have of course been issues with telephone fundraising being inappropriately used, but there are already regulations in place for this – use them. And let’s face it, its a pretty small number of charities that use this technique – the vast majority of us don’t.

    Calling the FPS a sledgehammer to crack a nut doesn’t go anywhere near far enough in describing the reach and limitations this will put on all charities. I’m not sure that the vast majority of charities, many of whom make up NCVO’s membership, have yet realised what this odious proposed regulation will mean to them.

    So I agree, shame on all those not opposing the FPS, shame on those who wish to stifle the work that charities do, and shame on those colleagues whose shabby practices have brought this about.

    • Adrian Sargeant
      October 26, 2015 at 12:22 pm

      Thanks Kevin

      Lets hope that the sector does begin to realize the full implications of this. If enough of NCVOs members resign in disgust and NCVOs own income begins to dip – perhaps they may yet be prompted to think again. I suspect they are WELL out of step with the interests of their members.

  2. Daniel Porter-Jones
    October 26, 2015 at 11:10 am

    Great post and could not agree more with the clear singling out of the sector. This is all actually a discussion regarding our personal data and when the TPS was introduced it applied to everyone, and it would be difficult to argue against something similar for the digital environment which protects e-mails for example. This however is going to be an expensive, destructive and clearly not needed course of action. We can assume that 99% of people will not sign up to the service – so what is the point? We never heard how many political flyers or mailings from the other sources you mentioned that Olive Cooke received – strange that.

    The saddest thing of all, is that Olive Cooke’s legacy – a lady who devoted so much of her time to support charities – will be forever tied to legislation which will end many charities and forever restrict others – this is a horrible injustice of this whole thing. We allowed the Media to keep attaching her name to this, we allowed her to be named in articles despite her family stating clearly and without doubt that it had absolutely nothing to do with her death – and yet her name continues to be linked to it.

  3. Anna
    October 26, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    Can we start a petition on Change.org for a review of this specific issue?

  4. October 26, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Well said, Adrian. The FPS is quite unnecessary and offers nothing which the MPS and TPS do not already provide efficiently and free to those genuinely offended by charity communications. There may be a case for a ‘one stop shop’ where you can subscribe to both registers with one click, but there is no case for imposing on charities the cost of maintaining a separate, sector-specific register with a matching set of penalties which only charities can incur. Why should we be treated differently more harshly than central heating, double glazing or PPI? Sir Stuart and his lordly crew have sold us down the river, I’m afraid. I will not say they were not provoked, but a response which penalises the entire sector for the sins of very few is hardly proportionate. Paradoxically the result may be that the focus of communication shifts to TV, a channel which few charities can afford, and which is dominated by many of those who caused the mess.

  5. James Robinson
    October 26, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    Hi Adrian,

    Thanks for sharing. Do you mind if I ask you if you shared these views publicly during the troubled period over the summer? Feels like you / we have missed the boat?

    What is your advice on the ‘fight back’ to stop the FPS?


    • Jen Shang
      October 26, 2015 at 7:10 pm

      We did our utter most best to share these views privately in the summer.

    • Ian MacQuillin
      October 27, 2015 at 8:27 am

      Hi James

      We at Rogare and the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy have been expressing these views in public and private since Olive Cooke took her own life and the media and politicians used that event to kick off the circus that has led to this situation where the fundraising profession appears to be complicit in implementing measures that will severely restrict its core function – to ask people to support charities.

      Adrian and I have written about the issues here on Critical Fundraising (I suggest you search the categories ‘Self-regulation’ and ‘Ethics’) and on UK Fundraising. I have presented at the IoF convention, Scottish IoF convention and the IFC last week in which I discussed the lack of an ethical underpinning for the FPS. Rogare also made a submission to Sir Stuart Etherington’s review (though of course we did not argue against the FPS as we had no idea such a monstrosity was in the pipeline).

      We have done our best. I don’t think we missed the boat; we have just been unsuccessful.

      So how to fight back?

      One issue is that as a profession fundraising does not have a normative theory of ethics underpinning its applied ethics. Sounds very jargony, but what it means is that we have professional ethics in the codes of practice that tell us WHAT fundraisers can and can’t do, but there’s nothing behind that that explains WHY they can or can’t do those things. This means that when someone comes along and tells fundraisers there’s something else they can’t do (another WHAT), the profession doesn’t have a stock of coherent, well-constructed arguments to say WHY such a proposal should not be implemented.

      So one thing Rogare is doing is to develop a new theory of normative fundraising ethics (I just wish we had done this last year!).

      With a coherent theory of ethics to underpin fundraising practice, fundraisers will be in a much stronger position to ‘fight back’.

      But someone has to lead the fight back. This is not my profession. I am not a fundraiser. So Rogare can debate, discuss, provide evidence and theory, maybe even influence. But we cannot lead.

      That is your role. The fundraising profession must take the lead. And that means fundraisers must take the lead.

      If you are content with the way your professional leadership is handling this situation and representing your views and the views of the profession vis-a-vis the Fundraising Preference Service to government, then great, everything is on a nice smooth trajectory and Adrian and I are lunatics shouting from the fringes and blogs such as this one are totally unnecessary and are probably doing more harm than good.

      But if you are alarmed by what we are saying, and you are not happy with leadership provided by the profession’s appointed leaders, then you, as fundraisers, need to do something about it. If the leadership is not representing your views, find another way to have them represented. Form an alternative leadership.

      It’s really up to you. At the end of the day, you will get what you fought for, or you will fight for it but you fail. But at least you fought. On the other hand, if you don’t fight, you’ll just have to accept what you are given, with no complaints.

  6. Simon Johnson
    October 27, 2015 at 8:49 am

    To steal the words of Matt Ridley:
    “A resounding trumpet blast for truth… It feels like coming up for air”

  7. Paul Marvell
    October 27, 2015 at 9:18 am

    Great blog Adrian and I agree with everything you say (as usual!). Throughout this whole summer of discontent I have been waiting for someone to stand up for fundraising and fundraisers and the IoF have been pathetic beyond belief. The lack of opposition to the FPS has been woeful. It came from complete left field as far as I can tell; no one but no one was advocating this, even though most of us wanted a change in the regulatory framework. How can two sector bodies (one representing the sector as a whole and one supposedly representing fundraising) let us down so badly? Well I could tell you why, but I imagine many on the inside can guess. My IoF individual membership is up for renewal this month and I think I may have a better use for that money.

  8. October 27, 2015 at 9:21 am

    I completely agree with you Adrian and Ian. We are rushing headlong into something that will change our ability to fundraise for ever without standing up for ourselves at all. I can only hope that the comments by IOC this week might make them have a second thought but am concerned that it may not be enough if our sector leaders don’t speak out for us.
    I can only hope that we can create something a bit better for Scotland based on the SCVO review.

  9. October 27, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    Delighted to read this lucid and coherent response to the hysterical wave of anti-fundraising cynicism seen in recent months. As a Director of Philanthropy and a Plymouth resident I’m proud of how the city’s university is seeking to facilitate a more informed discussion. Keep up the great work.

  10. October 27, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    Shout this from the rooftops. Especially the stuff about how beneficiaries will suffer.

    Change.org – OK, but concerted individual letter writing to MPs work too.

  11. October 28, 2015 at 8:35 am

    I live in the U.S. I have the honor of being the chair of the Advisory Board of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy.

    This issue, of course, does not belong to the U.K. only. Certainly the U.S. is just one step away from the same absurdity. And we’ve had our own absurdities with governments over the decades. Over and over, NGOs, CEOs, fundraisers, board members worry about speaking out. Fear of government retribution and donor retribution. Fear of conflict. Where is our courage?

    Fortunately, I do encounter NGOs that speak out and fight inappropriate public policy and government intervention. I do encounter individuals – professionals and volunteers – who gracefully explain to donors about equity and the value of all donors. But never enough.

    I urge you all to read The Agitator. http://www.theagitator.net. Roger Craver and Tom Belford, the agitators, are famous for their continual agitating and truth telling. And Roger wrote a brilliant piece complimenting Adrian, published this date, October 28.

    Let’s keep passing on both of these!

    • Lyndall Stein
      October 28, 2015 at 3:10 pm

      Thank you Simone and thank you Adrian – the missing energy in the midst of this crisis stirred up by the Daily Mail and met with very little resistance, is the determination to challenge what we all know to be simply wrong and potentially so damaging to the causes we serve – so many and so important .
      I have fundraised for so many causes which now face the danger of being turned off by the ridiculous idea that people need to be protected from us – that the public are the victims not those who struggle to feed themselves , who face bombings and death with suffer with life threatening illness and poverty
      The Hetherington report is ill informed and ignorant and serves the purpose of operating as a mouthpiece for all those who want to undermine our efforts to create a better fairer world
      We must challenge ,agitate inform and struggle- not just give in and accept measures that will damage those who need us most.

  12. October 28, 2015 at 4:11 pm

    As always Adrian a well researched carefully thought out analysis.

    However it is, I’m afraid, going to happen and we’ve done much to bring it down upon our heads. We didn’t need a catch-all FPS but we did need to listen to supporters, take action and stop bombarding them with inappropriate asks.

  13. Tricia Rich
    October 28, 2015 at 5:25 pm

    Thank you for this!
    I read the Etherington Report and absolutely appalled – thanks for expressing my concerns so well!
    Working for a very small non-profit I am hugely worried about the implications of the FPS – and how we will be able to administer it. Let alone my aversion to the very nature of the report.
    I am currently working with colleagues in the sector to work out how we can respond to and challenge the report and it’s implementation.
    It would be good to hear from you about what you think we can do? Surely we shouldn’t just roll over and accept it?

  14. Gill Raikes
    October 28, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    Peter (Maple) – you make a good comment, but should we not point out that if charities have to operate with these restrictions, why should I continue to get asked every week if I want compensation for an accident which hasn’t happened or ways to put all my debts, which I haven’t got, into one manageable system. Charities inform and care – these dreadful intrusive texts and phone calls from spurious pushy sellers do neither.

  15. November 5, 2015 at 9:03 am

    In response to the question on a Justgiving Blog

    “Was anyone else impressed by the RNLI’s announcement last week that they are willing to sacrifice £36 million of income over the next five years in order to ensure they are only communicating to supporters who have explicitly opted in?”

    I certainly wasn’t and I’ll explain why…

    Having personally saved two drowning men when I was 18 – I can’t imagine how losing £36 million pounds to prevent people experiencing a terrifying death is a good thing.

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