Editorial: Solving the 'don't call me' dilemma

The debate about whether charities should contact lapsed supporters who have said they don't want to be contacted might be more complicated than it seems, writes Stephen Cook

Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector
Stephen Cook, editor, Third Sector

There has been heavy criticism in the past week of a practice debated at one of the sessions of the International Fundraising Congress - contacting lapsed supporters who have said they do not want to be contacted in order to check whether that is still their position.

The Information Commissioner's Office says phone calls in such cases are against privacy regulations, and the Fundraising Standards Board says they are totally unacceptable. Neither, it seems, accepts the fig leaf of describing such contacts as 'administrative' or 'courtesy' calls.

Yet there is a genuine dilemma here for charities. Once a supporter has asked not to be contacted, must that always and without exception be the end of the relationship unless the supporter makes the move to resume it?

The weight of opinion in the reactions to this story on our website seems to favour the answer 'yes - it's as simple as that.' But does such a simple answer really do justice to the situation?

There might be many reasons why supporters tell a charity not to contact them. They might have decided that they just don't want to support it any more.

They might only want to stop receiving phone calls but be content to receive occasional newsletters. They might want to be left alone just for the time being because they have lost a job or had a baby.

Surely it ought not to be too difficult to establish what the position is right at the start, and then act accordingly in the future?

If it's a definite split, it's obvious there should be no contact of any kind. But people might not mind an annual check call, or they might say 'contact me in a couple of years when I might feel richer.' Modern supporter management systems should permit such distinctions to be recorded and allow charities to retrieve some lapsed supporters without infringing their wishes or their right to privacy.

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