Any fall in the level of donations when the General Data Protection Regulation comes into force will be due to the sector’s reaction to legislation, not because of the regulation’s requirements, fundraisers have heard.
Speaking as part of Big Questions Live, a panel event to open Third Sector’s Fundraising Week in central London this morning, Ian MacQuillin, director of the fundraising think tank Rogare said the law itself, which comes into effect on Friday, should not pose a problem and did not radically rewrite its predecessor, the Data Protection Act.
"I think the sector is going to have to accept a drop in donations, but it’s not because of what’s in the GDPR but because of the way that charities have badly interpreted and run with the legislation," he said.
He added that there had been a rush by charities to contact people only when they had opt-in consent, ignoring the fact that other options were available under the GDPR and that this had already led to a fall in income and would continue to do so.
"This is something this sector does," MacQuillin said. "Rushes into things without being in full possession of the facts, then presents what it has done as the right thing to do."
Charities had been "screaming" for guidance about when they could claim they had a legitimate interest – an alternative to seeking consent – to contact someone under the law, he said, but they should have been aware they could use legitimate interest before the guidance came out.
Marcus Missen, director of fundraising at WaterAid, who was also on the panel, said the law itself should not mean that charities would lose out, especially given that they had had the time to prepare for the new EU law, which has had a two-year lead-in period.
"We should have been working up to it, we should have been given permissions and we should have been putting everything in place," he said.
"And actually if we’re focused on engagement rather than time and time again hitting people for donations, then there should be no reason why our supporters won’t transition over and continue supporting us."
Mandy Johnson, chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition, said she was concerned that small charities would be confused by the legislation and guidance and would believe that, because so many large charities had moved to an opt-in only model, they needed to follow suit.
"If there is a drop in donations it will be because once again the regulation has been designed with the minority of the sector that earns more than £1m a year in mind," she said.
The panel members were also asked for their views on increasing the diversity of the fundraising sector.
MacQuillin said the sector needed to be more professionalised and that more academic qualifications needed to be available.
Panel member Desiree D’Souza, director of marketing and fundraising at the disability charity SeeAbility, said she agreed that ensuring fundraising was seen as a profession was important.
But she said that was only "as long as the routes to professionalisation are open to everyone".
Social mobility issues meant that accessing academic routes could be challenging for people from different backgrounds, she said.
"If it becomes about the usual ‘go to this university, do a certain course’ we’ll miss out all over again," she said.