Launched on 6 July, the Fundraising Preference Service (FPS) was created to give members of the public a greater degree of control over the communications they receive from charities. It allows individuals to stop direct marketing communications from one or more selected charities in England and Wales (and, later in 2017, Northern Ireland) and is operated by the Fundraising Regulator, the independent regulator for charitable fundraising.
This article will provide all the information you need to be confident dealing with the new service.
How does a member of the public use the FPS?
They can register with the FPS through the website public.fundraisingpreference.org.uk, or by using a helpline if they do not have access to a computer or need help with the online form.
Once registered, they can block direct marketing communications from up to three charities in one request, identifying each charity by its name or registered charity number. If they wish to select more than three charities, they will have to make multiple requests.
They also have to give their name and contact information so that this can be provided to the relevant charity or charities, enabling the member of the public to be identified in the records of each charity selected.
It is possible for a person to submit a request on behalf of someone else – for example an aged relative – but only if they have the authority to do so. In such circumstances, the person on whose behalf the request is made will be notified of the request by post.
Members of the public are told when they make an FPS request that the charity will be given a period of 28 days to action the request, and they may continue to receive direct marketing materials in the meantime.
What happens next?
The FPS will contact any charity subject to the request with a 28 day deadline to remove the person’s details from its direct marketing lists.
Charities which spend over £100,000 on public fundraising each year will have been invited to register with the FPS before its launch, and have been given the opportunity to choose how they would like to be notified of requests, including the frequency and the format of the notification.
Charities with smaller public fundraising spends will only be set up on the FPS system when (or if) they are the subject of a request. In such circumstances, a notification email will be sent to the email address appearing on the Charity Commission website for the charity in question, together with guidance on how to access the request. This new use for email contact details provided by charities to the Commission means it is more important than ever to make sure that such email contact details are kept up-to-date.
What must the charity do?
Once the FPS request is received by the charity, it must remove the member of the public’s details from the selected direct marketing communications within 28 days. The charity must not send any further direct marketing materials to the member of the public using the selected direct marketing communications.
It must also maintain a list of all requests received from the FPS, and make sure that such requests are adhered to.
Are there any circumstances in which the charity can contact the member of the public again?
The charity can only contact the member of the public again if necessary for non-marketing reasons – for example, if an existing gift needs processing in some way.
If a charity can’t find the person who submitted the FPS request in its records, it must hold the information on a suppression list for future reference. It may be that the person is not currently receiving direct marketing communications from the charity, but has made the FPS request to ensure that no such communications are received in the future.
However, the Fundraising Regulator states that a charity must make “all reasonable endeavours” to identify the person in its records and to use its “best judgement” to carry out the suppression as requested where the information provided to the FPS by a member of the public does not match, or only partly matches, that held by the charity. The charity is not allowed to contact the person who made the request to check personal information.
What happens if a charity does not comply with an FPS request?
If an individual who has made an FPS request receives further unwanted direct marketing communications, they may contact the Fundraising Regulator to notify the regulator of this. The Fundraising Regulator will then contact the charity in question to tell them that further direct marketing communications have been received despite the FPS request.
If a charity continues to send direct marketing communications despite an FPS request, the person who made the request may make a formal complaint to the Fundraising Regulator.
The Code of Fundraising Practice has been amended to require that charities must stop sending direct marketing communications to individuals if an FPS request is made. Continuing to send direct marketing communications in these circumstances is therefore a breach of the Code, and may cause the Fundraising Regulator to take regulatory action.
In addition, the Fundraising Regulator may send a Section 11 request under the Data Protection Act 1998 to a charity not complying with an FPS request. If the charity does not comply with the request within a reasonable period, it will be in breach of the Data Protection Act 1998, and the charity may be reported to the ICO for the breach.
Are charities likely to receive many FPS requests?
The Fundraising Regulator confirmed to Third Sector magazine that the FPS received around 1,300 suppression requests from 614 people in the first twelve and a half hours of operation. It will be interesting to see if the number of suppression requests increase as the existence of the FPS becomes more common knowledge.
However, the Fundraising Regulator commented at the launch of the FPS that it hoped the implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will “mean less demand for the FPS over time”.
Bearing this comment in mind, the most sensible advice for charities at present would seem to be as follows: know what to do if faced with an FPS request, and be sure any such request is acted upon, but don’t lose sight of the current bigger picture around consent and use of personal data.
Compliance with the FPS is important, to avoid possible regulatory action by the Fundraising Regulator, by the ICO or by both. Charities should certainly familiarise themselves with the full guidance provided by the Fundraising Regulator on the FPS.
However, charities also need to remain focussed on preparing themselves for the arrival of the GDPR on 25 May 2018, the requirements of which seem likely to have a much more significant impact on fundraising in the charity sector than the FPS. A short summary of the main aspects of the GDPR can be found here.