Evaluating an important fundraising service

The Fundraising Regulator

“We chose Action Planning to carry out this review because it is well known in the sector, its costs were reasonable and it had the people capable to do the work. They gave a good service, kept to the timetable and made changes where they had to be made. Emma was very clear and certainly understood the brief. We got what we expected and they did an independent job, which was important.”

Gerald Oppenheim, Chief Executive, The Fundraising Regulator

The Fundraising Regulator is the independent regulator of charitable fundraising in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. One of its services is the Fundraising Preference Service (FPS), a service that allows members of the public to stop direct marketing communications from fundraising organisations. Three years on from the launch of the FPS, the Fundraising Regulator wished to fulfil its commitment to review the service and, after a tendering process, commissioned Action Planning to undertake an independent evaluation of the FPS.

We were asked to evaluate the FPS, including how it was set up, the value and quality of the service, what it does well and how it might change, and whether there continues to be a need for the FPS in light of strengthened data protection rights for individuals.

Action Planning Associate Consultant Emma Insley led the evaluation through a mixed-methods approach, which combined qualitative and quantitative research methods, to capture the views of members of the public who have used the FPS, fundraising organisations and other stakeholders from third sector, government and regulatory organisations.

The evaluation ran from February to July 2020, at a time when the UK was in lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic.  Despite the challenges, we were able to consult with a wide range of stakeholders.

We compiled two questionnaires: one for members of the public who have used the service and one for charities who have received a suppression request and/or who are registered with the Fundraising Regulator. We also conducted 30 interviews with a wide range of stakeholders, including NCVO, Department for Culture Media and Sport, The Charity Commission, Information Commissioner’s Office, Chartered Institute of Fundraising, charities who have received requests from the public via the FPS to stop direct marketing and members of the public who had used the service.

We also ran a focus group with charities who have received a suppression request and conducted a review of service delivery measures.

From our research we produced a detailed appraisal of the FPS, highlighting its strengths and how it could improve. We found that the service is a huge benefit for the small numbers of people who use it, but those numbers are declining and there are concerns from the charity sector that it is more complex and costly than it needs to be.  

We determined, however, that the principle of an independent fundraising preference service is an essential part of the support structure that helps to maintain public trust and ultimately strengthen fundraising, and recommended that the Fundraising Regulator investigate options for a simpler and more cost-effective solution – one that focuses primarily on providing a convenient and regulated way for people in vulnerable circumstances (and those acting on their behalf) to opt-out of receiving charity direct marketing.

In all we made nine recommendations, six of which will be implemented once the technology solution is ready, the other three will need development following consultation with charities. The Fundraising Regulator published the evaluation in November 2020 as scheduled.

Consultant’s insight:
It was a pleasure to evaluate the FPS and talk to people who had used it, which included family members and carers of generous charity supporters whose circumstances had changed and who were becoming anxious about the volume of charity direct marketing they were receiving. They needed help to opt out of receiving charity direct marketing and found the FPS to be a convenient way to do this, which gave them peace of mind.

It was also a privilege to talk to fundraising organisations and other third sector stakeholders whose work is the lifeblood of communities in the UK and throughout the globe. Their commitment to providing excellent supporter care was clearly evident and we are grateful for their time and contributions at a time when the UK was in lockdown. 

I am pleased that our recommendations have been accepted by the Fundraising Regulator and will watch with interest as the service develops in future.

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