Cancer Research UK to introduce opt-in-only policy for fundraising communications

Britain's largest fundraising charity says it expects to lose millions of pounds in the short-term but expects to make 'long-term gains'

CRUK: opt-in policy to be brought in
CRUK: opt-in policy to be brought in

Cancer Research UK expects to lose millions in income after introducing an opt-in-only policy for its fundraising communications, the charity has said.

The policy, which will apply to new supporters from next month and to all supporters from April 2017, means that CRUK will be able to contact supporters only if they have given unambiguous and explicit permission.

The charity's income went up by £31m last year to £621m, of which £431m was voluntary income, according to its latest annual report.

Ed Aspel, executive director of fundraising and marketing at CRUK, which is the UK’s largest fundraising charity, told Third Sector that the policy would cost the charity millions in the short-term but the precise amount would be determined by how well the charity communicated with its supporters in the future.

"It’s difficult to say how much this will cost us, but the better we do it, the smaller the amount will be and the sooner we’ll be making more money," he said.

"One of the reasons we’re doing new supporters first is to listen to them, understand what works best and make sure we’ve got the best experience when we move that to all supporters."

He said the complexity involved in processing the wishes of millions of supporters was another reason the charity would wait until next year to extend the policy across the board.

"It’s so complicated with the number of supporters we’ve got – we need to get this right," he said. "We want to make absolutely certain that people don’t inadvertently stop hearing from us.

"We’re doing this because we think there’s a long-term gain to be had by doing the right thing by supporters and respecting their wishes. If they’re going to opt in and hear from us on their own terms, then we’ve got to give them a reason to opt out – and that’s about better relationships."

CRUK already has an opt-in policy for its email and text communications – as per the law – but the new policy will also cover contact by letter or phone, where supporters have previously had to expressly opt out of receiving the charity’s fundraising communications.

The move makes CRUK the second major charity to have publicly announced a move to an opt-in policy over the past six months. The RNLI said last October that it would introduce the policy in January 2017.

Aspel said CRUK would be willing to share what it learned from the policy with the rest of the sector over the coming 12 months. He could not say how the policy would work with the Fundraising Preference Service, which could be introduced later this year, because it is not yet clear how the service would work, he said.

The children’s charity Barnardo’s also recently introduced an opt-in-only policy for its fundraising communications with new supporters – but unlike CRUK’s new policy, this will apply only to those signing up as regular givers.

Louise Parkes, corporate director of income and innovation at Barnardo’s, told Third Sector last week that moving to an opt-in policy for all supporters would be costly because checking and recording supporters’ preferences would take up significant staff time.

Barnardo’s was one of six major charities that wrote a joint letter to the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in December calling for proposals for sector-wide opt-in-only rules to be put on hold until new EU data protection laws had come into effect at the end of 2017.

The new rules are likely to force all charities and commercial organisations to adopt opt-in policies for their marketing communications.

A working group set up by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and led by Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, is considering what they will mean for charities’ fundraising communications.

The group, which is due to report in the summer, was formed after Sir Stuart Etherington recommended in his review of fundraising self-regulation last summer that charities should adopt opt-in systems. 

The Information Commissioner also considers opt-in best practice and last month signed an agreement with the Red Cross committing the charity to calling potential donors only if they have opted in to receiving calls in the previous two years. 

The ICO has also recently been negotiating similar agreements with about 14 other charities.

Aspel confirmed that CRUK had been approached about such a deal but said that it would not be signing it.

"I’m not sure why we would – we haven’t done anything wrong," he said. "They’ve actually told us that they think our practices have been particularly good."

CRUK’s new policy goes above and beyond the requirements of the Code of Fundraising Practice, currently set by the Institute of Fundraising, which says only that charities should state clearly on any addressed mailings how individuals can opt out and adhere to minimum font-size requirements for their opt-in and opt-out statements on printed communications.

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