Reuben Turner: Permission to ask lies in people's hearts and minds

We need to turn the conversation around and offer people great experiences, writes the creative director of the Good Agency

The right-wing press is out to get us, spreading falsehoods, misrepresenting the sector and making personal attacks on principled people. They wouldn't do it if it didn't sell papers. They believe they've got a mandate from readers - and they seem to be right. How did that happen? We're perceived to be asking a small number of people too often and too intrusively, which means serious conversations are occurring about permission. Who we can contact, how often, about what.

There are laws and guidelines to protect people's privacy, data and dignity - and some charities and agencies stick to them more closely than others. But one thing the furore makes clear is that permission doesn't live as a flag in a database or in a box someone forgot to tick. It doesn't live in rules and guidelines, necessary as they are. It lives in hearts and minds.

Attention, permission, data are precious. We should treat them that way. But like the lonely Lothario at the singles bar, we seem to measure success by the phone numbers we get, and we don't seem to be getting the second dates we used to. As people become savvier and more resistant to sharing data, our pool of potential donors might shrink. So it's clear that fundraisers should aim to claim permission in hearts and minds. We need to turn the conversation around and offer people great experiences. We should add value to their lives, not extract it. This has difficult ramifications. We might have to invest more, have some awkward conversations with trustees about RoI. But imagine if it was worth it. "I legally have permission to harass you" is not a great conversation-opener; "remember that life-changing experience?" might be.

Reuben Turner is creative director of the Good Agency

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