Data is a charity's most-valuable commodity - start treating it as such

The new EU regulations about data should not make charities afraid, writes Jane Cave

Jane Cave
Jane Cave

It has been a difficult year for many charities and the sector, one in which a number of issues in the way the sector approaches its supporters have been put under the spotlight and triggered a process of evolution across the industry. This offers third sector professionals an opportunity to make some really positive changes that will benefit both the charities and their supporters.

One area that charities already have a valuable resource available to them is in the data they have about their supporters. This understanding of the people that donate their time and/or money to the sector is integral for the long-term success of all fundraising and marketing campaigns. However, with the new EU General Data Protection Regulation due to have a significant effect on how charities handle personal data, it is important that they act now to understand the new rules and how to successfully operate within them.

We have spoken to a number of charity fundraisers and marketers in recent months, who have said they’re already finding the changes required for GDPR more than a little confusing. However, these changes should not be feared and are ultimately designed to ensure consumers are put first, which will enable the sector to build a sustainable future that befits its’ charitable aims. Ultimately, this means that education and training will be an increasingly important part of creating this future for the sector, as staff will need to not only be aware of the GDPR, but also ensuring the people in their teams have the right skills in place to use the valuable insight data could have for the charity’s future marketing and fundraising activities.

Here are three specific areas that charities can focus on initially to start this learning process:

How the law affects marketing and the importance of consent? 

Marketing departments will need to understand what the changes are in the GDPR as compared with the Data Protection Act 1998, as well as the European Commission’s new consultation on revising the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive, which was implemented into UK law back in 2003. These laws all have an effect on how and when marketers need to ask for consent, not to mention whether it has to be opt-out, soft opt-in, opt-in or double opt-in. Ensuring charities have the systems to manage all these different consents and deal with any changes which the donor may request in a timely fashion is another challenge.

Why data protection matters to fundraising and the effect of legislation?

Breaking the rules on data protection could lead to enforcement action from the Information Commissioner’s Office, which will have the power to issue significantly higher fines under the GDPR as well as action by the new fundraising regulator. But more importantly charities risk damaging their reputation and the relationships they have in place with their supporters in the first place if their personal data is not used correctly.

How do we actually analyse and use the data?

Even once the new laws are understood and charities are managing all this personal data correctly, they still need to make sure they’re able to use the insight from this data to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. Understanding how to evaluate the metrics from marketing campaigns will enable charities to fully appreciate the value of their supporters, not to mention the success of their fundraising programmes.

Charities need to put their supporters at the heart of everything they do. As part of this, everyone in the organisation must ensure that they are being diligent with this data, respecting privacy, are honest and fair, and taking responsibility. The data charities have on their supporters is essential to the long-term success of all third sector fundraising and marketing campaigns, it’s the most valuable commodity within every organisation – and it simply must be treated like it.

Jane Cave is managing director at the IDM


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