A significant number of Save the Children supporters chose to opt out from receiving its communications after it changed the nature of its consent messages, according to written evidence submitted to MPs.
Sir Alan Parker, who was chairman of Save the Children UK until September, wrote in evidence submitted to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into charity fundraising, that changes made to the charity’s opt-in and opt-out messages on its online forms led to a rise in the proportion of supporters opting out of communications, from less than 5 per cent to 60 per cent.
Parker, who is the founder of the public relations agency the Brunswick Group and will become chairman of Save the Children International at the end of the year, said that the rise in opt-out rates came after the charity sent emails and letters to its supporters to tell them about its "supporter promise", announced in July, which enables people to choose how they are contacted by the charity. The letters and emails told supporters how they could change their contact preferences, Parker said in the evidence.
The rise in the number of opt-outs proved that reforms such as those made by Save the Children "can and do work", he wrote.
A spokeswoman for Save the Children declined to answer further questions from Third Sector about the evidence.
Many charities are concerned that an opt-in system will be forced on them.
George Kidd, chair of the working group that will consider how the new Fundraising Preference Service will work, urged charities at last week’s fundraising summit to prove that an opt-out system was robust enough to protect the public.
"If you want to prove that opt-in is wrong, you’ve got to prove why opt-out is right," he said. "We’ve got to make this work, and if people can’t demonstrate that an opt-out regime can work in the interests of our donors and the public, then the alternative is what it is."
While Kidd said that he was "instinctively an opt-out person", the review of fundraising self-regulation carried out by Sir Stuart Etherington recommended in September that all fundraising organisations should make a public commitment to adopt an opt-in system for their communications.
All of Etherington’s recommendations have been accepted by the government. Lord Grade, chair of the new Fundraising Regulator, said at the summit that there would be "no rowing back" on any of the proposals.
Even if this proposal was rejected, data-protection rules making their way through the European Parliament, expected to come into force in 2018, could make it a legal requirement for organisations to obtain consent from people before contacting them for marketing purposes.