Matt Collins: GDPR is the wake-up call the sector needs

It will force us to use our data better, writes our columnist

Matt Collins
Matt Collins

It’s just over a week until the General Data Protection Regulation comes into force, and charities are finally coming to the end of an enormous amount of work (we hope). It’s been difficult, stressful and a huge drain.

We at Platypus Digital have been through our own GDPR preparation, during which I’ve come to believe that the new regulations really are the wake-up call that the sector needs.

What has been happening

For far too long, charities have overseen bloated email lists and databases chock full of people with tenuous, outdated or completely unknown connections to their charities. That’s thousands of people’s personal data just sitting on spreadsheets and gathering dust in a digital corner.

GDPR will slash the size of those lists massively, and that’s going to have a hugely positive impact on fundraising. Here’s why.

We’ll actually use donors’ data properly

The fact that charities will be left with a much smaller pool of people (and data) to fundraise from will drive massive creativity in how it’s used. A data-driven approach means charities will finally use those treasure troves of information that they’ve been sitting on for far too long.

Instead of email lists just getting the occasional newsletter with any and every ask going, there will be properly thought-out onboarding campaigns.

Charities won’t act like everyone on their lists knows everything about their causes. Instead, they’ll send foundation information on how they change the world (not just the latest news) to people who don’t know it, and deliver the most moving examples of people experiencing that change first hand, straight to people’s in boxes.

We’ll stop reporting on big numbers

The sector is often guilty of wanting to report only on the big, impressive-sounding numbers – for example, the number of email subscribers on their lists, regardless of whether they read the emails or not. Digital teams frequently report only on how many Twitter followers the charity has gained that month, while the value of press coverage is often measured only in financial terms, but without the actual money.

Now that the GDPR is reducing how many big numbers are knocking around, maybe we’ll stop choosing those biggies that make us feel important and instead focus on the small numbers that have actually made other people important – from how many people received the highest-impact services in the last month to the number that came to a coffee morning who had never heard of your cause before. We have to start focusing on the digital that matters.

Fundraising language will improve

One of the big principles of the GDPR is "transparency". This is a very good thing.

Charities are of course mostly very transparent. But the GDPR might do something amazing – remove that vague word "could" from fundraising copy: "Your donation could pay for this service" or "We will tell you about how you could support us." Now it’s time to cut to the chase: "Here’s how we’ll use your money" and "We’re going to ask you for a donation."

And if we’re going to be that blunt, we’ll have to come up with a really good reason for it, like Charity:Water did with its 100% Model.

What we need to do

Yes, the GDPR is a big drain on resources. Yes, the decisions it forces us to take are difficult. And, yes, it could even lead to a fall in income.

So what we need to do now is be brave and proud of our fundraising. It’s time to convey just how brilliant your charity’s work is. It’s time to use bold language to attract new supporters. And it’s time to replace the dead wood of data with fresh, eager new people and attract them with inspiring, emotive campaigns.

Yes, it’s time to stop hitting the snooze button and answer the wake-up call that the GDPR has brought.

Matt Collins is managing director of Platypus Digital, a digital marketing agency specialising in the charity sector

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