Dawn Varley: Focus by putting yourself in your supporters' shoes

View data protection as a modern application of the 1960s' call for the right to privacy, and your dislike of it will soften, writes our new columnist

Dawn Varley
Dawn Varley

You could say I'm the new Stephen Pidgeon - but, much as I've enjoyed time spent with Mr P in the past (we sat on the Institute of Fundraising board together) our approaches to life, and certainly to some of the pressing issues in fundraising, are very different.

I've worked for small, medium and large non-profits, and served time as staff member, volunteer, trustee, consultant - and of course supporter - of many charities over the past 18 years.

I've spent a lot of time in supporter care and database management, with a later move into fundraising and marketing, When handed a data brief, I tended to respond "why?" rather than simply asking for the deadline; what interested me was how the organisation wanted to engage with the supporter involved.

Those experiences lie behind my fervent belief that understanding the various working parts of the charity communications machine - not just fundraising, but all the underpinning operations - is essential to delivering a coherent, compelling and consistent mission call.

Wants, needs, expectations

Even more important is an appreciation of the wants, needs and expectations of supporters. Most charities I work with claim the supporter is at the heart of what they do. They might have a supporter promise and a supporter care team. Yet in many cases, the supporter is not really present in the ethos of the organisation. And that's where the problem lies.

Our organisations are nothing without supporters. And by supporters, I mean traditional financial donors of whatever size, campaigners, volunteers (from charity shop teams to trustees), fundraisers (marathon runners to cake-bakers), beneficiaries (who can give as well as receive, and make excellent ambassadors), legacy pledgers, corporates and more. If we underestimate their importance we're in trouble; place them at the centre of our fundraising, campaigning and communications and we'll reap the benefits. And this is where two of my favourite things - systems and data - come together to help fundraising magic happen.

Managing supporter relationships, and ensuring we give people both the service and the respect they deserve, cannot be done without systems and good data management. Our fundraising strategies must be embedded in our systems and corresponding business processes. At the heart of this are data, which represent our supporters, the living, thinking humans with whom we need to connect to fulfil our mission. And if we profess to want to deliver excellent supporter care, and to enable them to help our cause in the way that suits them, we need to learn to embrace both the Fundraising Preference Service and the General Data Protection Regulation.


Consider data protection as a modern application of the 1960s' call for the right to privacy, and our dislike (hatred?) of it will soften. Who could argue with the right to privacy? Similarly, it will help to think of the GDPR as updating the 20-year-old Data Protection Act for our fast-moving digital world.

And let's remember that behind the FPS lies the perceived (and perception is everything) desire of the public to control which charities can contact them.

If we view these things from a supporter perspective, they come into clearer focus. As a sector we would do well to reflect, inform ourselves and adapt as needed. The world has fundamentally changed, and we need to change with it.

Dawn Varley is a fundraising consultant

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