The new Fundraising Preference Service (FPS), developed by the Fundraising Regulator, the independent regulator of charitable fundraising, was launched on July 6th 2017. Its stated aim is ‘Rebuilding public trust in fundraising’, a bold and welcome objective indeed, following aspects of poor fundraising practice highlighted fairly and unfairly in the media and in Westminster.

It has been developed as a key frustration identified by members of the public was a lack of control over the nature and frequency of fundraising approaches. The cross-party review in 2015 identified a need for a service to help individuals manage their communications with charities more easily.

The FPS website allows the public to deselect elements of direct marketing communications from selected charities, three at a time, despite the inaccurate statements of the Regulator’s Chair Lord Grade on Radio 4 who speculated that you could opt out of types of causes or charity communications all together. It is easy to use, clear and the process is relatively speedy and painless. Within a few days there were reports of members of the public opting out of communications at the rate of two per minute.

But will it make any difference?

On the positive side it fits the criteria of the sector becoming more donorcentric, forwarded as an ideal by the Commission for the Donor Experience – to place donors at the heart of fundraising – and the impending GDPR legislation of 2018, loitering like a black cloud over many a charity, which aims to give individuals more control of their personal information.

It should, in theory, save charities money by reducing the numbers of disinterested names on databases, like a natural, free data cleanse. It should over time give charities the confidence that their supporters are genuinely interested. As an added bonus charities will know more about how their donors want to be contacted and how not, an exercise that would costly and difficult to achieve by any single charity.

On the downside it doesn’t appear to be particularly ground-breaking. Any supporter can currently tell a charity that they no longer want to receive certain types of communication, though this does rely on the charity having a sophisticated enough fundraising database that can opt donors out of specific marketing channels.

A more personal, direct opt-out would give the charity the opportunity to explore why their supporter has chosen to lapse or pick specific means of communication, which could inform future fundraising.

In a way, Lord Grade’s ill-informed remarks on Radio 4 inadvertently hit on something; he painted a picture of an online portal that allowed charity supporters to opt out of all types of communication from all charities – well why not? I’d happily opt out of phone communication from all charities, rather than log in and go through one by one.

More interestingly, he suggested that a donor could opt out of types of causes, for example medical research or international aid charities. Again, why not? These are categories on the Charity Commission register and so this seems also feasible.

What I think is even more fundamental, however, is the option of turning the FPS on its head and incorporating opt-in communications. Presently this is not possible on the FPS site, even one charity at a time. Imagine if you became interested in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, homelessness, or moved to a new area and wanted to opt in to children’s charities in your area? Now, that really would be a Fundraising Preference Service.

We talk about putting the donor at the heart of charity communications and the digital tools appear to be on the horizon if not already in existence, so why not have a website where everyone can go and manage their opt-in and opt-out communications, by charity, by cause, by sector?

Lord Grade may be clueless about how his own service functions, but he certainly hit on something. He highlighted what donors really want – real choice and flexibility. Now, that’s Future Fundraising.