Charities can now include requests for consent in the thank-you texts they send to donors, according to a senior policy officer at the Information Commissioner’s Office, who also warned that charities should stop doing so-called wealth profiling without permission.
Richard Marbrow, who was speaking at the Institute of Fundraising Convention in London yesterday, said the ICO would soon be issuing guidance that would allow charities involved in text fundraising to include messages asking for permission to communicate with supporters in messages that thanked them for donations.
"This is an acceptance of the fact that people will expect thank-you texts and we don’t mind you adding something to it," said Marbrow. He said it would still be prohibited for charities to send out texts that purely asked for consent.
Marbrow, who said he was the lead person for charities within the ICO, said there were issues with the practice of wealth profiling, in which organisations carry out research into the background of their supporters to determine their likelihood of making substantial donations. Saying that he realised the stance was controversial, Marbrow said: "There are issues with wealth profiling and it comes back to this: do people expect you to do it?
"If their reaction upon discovering that they have a wealth score would be horror, you haven’t got their consent. They gave you their data and you didn’t tell them this was what you were doing."
Marbrow said there was a difference between Googling a supporter who donated £10,000 – which was acceptable – and using a data broker to search through millions of data files in order to access information on the person.
"If you’ve not told someone you’re going to do that, what makes you think you can? How is that within their reasonable expectations?" he said.
Marbrow said there had been "a few issues around consent and how consent works" and alluded to the sector’s confusion about the lawfulness of several direct marketing activities.
"We will take some of the blame for that, but by no means all of it, and I think we are now increasingly clear," he said.
"One of the things the sector asked for was clarity, and I will try and bring you that. The trouble is, if you then say ‘we don’t like that clarity, could we have some different clarity please?’, we’re not going to get on very well."
He added that the ICO did not set the law, it merely enforced it. If if charities believed there should be any exemptions for charities, they should talk to their MPs or MEPs, Marbrow said.
He said the ICO was trying its best but it needed the sector to be receptive to its efforts.