Stephen Pidgeon: Why we don't need a preference service

Proper supporter stewardship techniques will obviate the need for this charity-unfriendly development, writes our columnist

Stephen Pidgeon
Stephen Pidgeon

As I write, Cancer Research UK is in the midst of its bid to secure the opted-in agreement of its huge supporter base. It is CRUK’s decision to take this challenging position: nobody is requiring charities to ask their existing donors to opt in.

The General Data Protection Regulation, the new EU regulation coming in May next year, will require charities to provide permission audit trails back to the time the donor was recruited to show the name has not been "magicked" from thin air. But if a donor has signified their assent to receiving further communications, particularly by making more donations, then I defy the bureaucrats to challenge our right to continue to communicate. If their support has gone cold, then we have to think again. Of course we do.

But how should we show our donors our appreciation for their support, while assuring them that any time they want to remove it they simply have to tell us? They don’t need to list the charity on some complicated preference service.

We must set up supporter stewardship techniques that are simple to run and computer-generated. Fundraisers have no excuse for not doing this. What about asking every new donor, 12 months after they make their first gift, to tell us what they want to receive in the future and how often they want to receive it?

This pressurises fundraisers, of course. If the first year’s programme is a series of demands for more money, boring newsletters about the charity’s work and a range of inappropriate fundraising products, then the opt-out rate will be high. The first 15 months of a donor’s journey with the charity has to be carefully planned in advance. Only tried-and-tested messages, materials and media should be used to secure their ongoing interest, and these should be honed to perfection through testing.

No Information Commissioner, even one breathing fire at the soft target that is charities, can demand more transparency than a planned supporter journey that includes opportunities to opt out.

A supporter journey must include rewards too, and not just charmingly crafted thank-you letters. One year’s support with a monthly gift should be acknowledged. Two or three years of monthly giving should earn the donor special status. I have long spoken of the need to recognise support that has been constant for five, 10 or 20 years. It is madness that fundraisers treat donors with support lasting years in the same way they treat a donor giving their second donation – demand, demand, demand.

Here’s a simple idea, for example. All annual reports are embargoed to a particular date. Our best donors should receive a copy the day before the embargo. Why? Because they are special, and giving them such prior access is a tangible acknowledgement of their importance.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this expensive and unnecessary preference service died simply through lack of use. And we’ll achieve that if we radically improve the supporter experience we deliver.

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