Regulation with Rosie: donors

The Charity Commission's Rosie Chapman on how not to manage your donors.

Most of the risk factors that can damage a charity's reputation are fairly predictable. Among them are high and unexplained fundraising costs, blatant conflicts of interest and unreconstructed celebrity patrons.

But poorly organised contact management? Scanning the weekend papers recently, this seemed to be the pet 'charity hate' of the moment. It's hardly criminal, but the amount of irritation, media coverage and, crucially, loss of donor support that it seems to generate means the sector ignores it at its peril.

Ignoring requests to remove donors from mailing databases is poor donor management and implies a lack of coordination. An aura of incompetence coupled with an apparent disregard for donor's rights is a sure-fire way to lose donors, the potential supporters they talk to and, depending on how far they take the issue, those reading the papers.

This subject goes far beyond simply alienating donors. Well-managed, up-to-date contact databases save time and money in a whole range of ways, from contacting volunteers to inviting supporters to events and lobbying MPs. If your data includes people who have asked to be removed, out-of-date addresses and the names of those who no longer walk the earth, then it's actually a liability, not an asset.

Maintaining the quality of your contact data is also essential if you are to maximise your Gift Aid contribution, because HM Revenue & Customs requires correct names and addresses to process donations. There are also data protection issues to consider, including your donors' understanding of whether their details will be sold or passed on.

At its best, contact management can save your charity time, money and effort. At its worst, it can turn off supporters more swiftly than a reactionary reality TV C-lister.

• Rosie Chapman, executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission. 

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