Charity fundraisers should approach donor consent as a marketing exercise rather than just a form of legal compliance, according to David Cole, managing director of the online market research agency fast.MAP.
Cole, who was a member of the Institute of Fundraising's task group on managing communication preferences that over the summer considered changes the IoF should make to its Code of Fundraising Practice, was speaking at a briefing yesterday hosted by fast.MAP on the new EU data protection regulations.
He told delegates, who included fundraisers from several large charities: "I want to inspire people to think about consent as a marketing process and not just have the lawyers dictating the land.
"The charity sector has been caught out by data protection rules and it’s trying to catch up very quickly. There has been a really blinkered approach to this."
Cole said that people who opted in were better prospects than those who opted in by accident and that charities should therefore view the increasing regulatory pressure for them to adopt opt-in systems for their communications as an opportunity rather than a threat.
But he said he was unaware of any research that showed how the lifetime value of donors who consented by accident to be contacted compared with the lifetime value of those who explicitly opted in.
Cole said he would host a breakfast briefing for the fundraising directors of the country's 10 largest charities next week at which he would urge them to treat consent with the same discipline that they treated their donor-acquisition programmes. He said he would tell them they should have managers and targets specifically focused on donor consent.
Cole said that Peter Lewis, chief executive of the IoF, would co-host this event with him and it would be closed to the press. The IoF endorsed this approach, he said.
Jenny Moseley, director of the data protection compliance consultancy Opt-4, who also spoke at the event, said that the move to opt-in would result in more people giving consent to be contacted by email but fewer consenting to be contacted by phone. Direct mail consent rates would remain more or less unchanged, she said.
Moseley recommended that all organisations handling data should appoint data protection officers and carry out "privacy impact assessments" – a tool used to help organisations identify and avoid breaching privacy rules – as soon as possible. She said that although the EU data protection rules were unlikely to come into effect until 2018, organisations should be "very proactive" at assessing their compliance with the rules now.
According to a survey carried out by fast.MAP earlier this year and shared at the event, 46 per cent of charities had not made any changes to the way they collected data in preparation for the new rules.