Opinion: Third Voice - Act carefully with automated voice broadcasting

Dorothy Wheeler is managing director of Premier Contact in Markinch, Fife

Your recent story about using recordings of celebrities' voices to ask for donations by telephone raises some important points. Automated voice broadcasting is not a new medium - it is one that we tested last year on behalf of two major charities. However, the EU's guidance to the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2004 states quite clearly how this medium should be used. As a result, we discontinued this service: given the regulations, we felt it was not responsible to continue.

Regulation 19 says not only that the recipient of the call should have the opportunity to speak to a 'live' operator, it also clearly states that "marketing material cannot be transmitted by such a system without prior consent of any subscriber". This is where the subscriber has told the caller that he or she consents for the time being to such communications being sent.

Furthermore, the Institute of Fundraising's telephone fundraising code of practice, the purpose of which is "to enable outbound telephone fundraising to be undertaken in a professional and sensitive manner", also clearly states that "the use of automated calling systems requires the subject's specific consent, regardless of telephone preference service and corporate telephone preference service registration".

I also take issue with the comparison of this medium with 'chuggers'.

There is currently no law that covers the collection of direct debits, so charities and agencies together set up the PFRA regulatory body - one of its key objectives is to ensure that "public trust and confidence is maintained". It aims to ensure best practice until a new Charities Act includes regulation covering this form of fundraising. By acting responsibly, face-to-face agencies and charities have successfully engaged with the regulators and law-makers in order to protect this form of fundraising from over-restrictive regulation. Had face-to-face agencies attempted to subvert or even flout the law, they would have endangered the future of face-to-face fundraising.

We trialled automated voice broadcasting because we believe it lends itself to low-cost, mass fundraising, particularly in times of emergency.

But it should not be outside the law, so why not try to change the law or practice 'voice give' within the law? That way it will not be regarded by the public as another nuisance medium.

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