Harness New Regulations to Increase Donor Dedication


Direct marketing is critical to any charity’s fundraising activities. Each organisation possesses a valuable database of thousands of names, phone numbers, email and house addresses regularly called upon to donate. Soon this may not be possible if all 160,000 UK charities don’t act now to comply with new rules. But it's not all doom and gloom; hidden within the regulations there are valuable opportunities to be found.

GDPR isn’t just another office acronym. General Data Protection Regulation is an EU-wide ruling which comes into force on 25th May 2018, and yes it will remain post-Brexit. It replaces existing data laws and gives individuals greater protection against any organisation contacting them. The change is partly a response to criticism of some charity's excessive use of direct marketing and will affect all organisations who store and process personal data.

The new system requires charities to have an unambiguous opt-in option, such as ticking a box to consent to receiving future communications. Come 25th May it will be illegal to reach old contacts; rendering millions of potential donors uncontactable. Unless charities act now to ask their contacts for this permission.

Unsurprisingly some larger charities have acted swiftly to get the message out there. Cancer Research UK have even launched a nationwide campaign asking for the public to ‘Give us your tick’. But most of our charities are far smaller and don’t have a dedicated team to handle their data. Some are even unaware of the changes and those who defy GDPR face exuberant financial penalties.

No law would be complete without grey areas open to interpretation. For GDPR this means individuals can be contacted without their permission if the charity believes it’s within the person’s interest. In reality charities probably won’t want to go down this route if it means risking hefty fines.

So far this talk of less donors and capacious fines has spread a rhetoric of fear around GDPR. Indeed many businesses are thriving off this threat by selling their services as GDPR consultants. Yes, charities must act and seek guidance, but GDPR shouldn’t be seen as a demon to work against. Data is only truly valuable when it’s relevant. Asking someone with a love of small rodents to donate to an exotic snake charity, on the vague basis that you know they like animals is unlikely to produce results.

Once charities have accrued a GDPR compliant database they will be able to manage their marketing spend more efficiently; moving towards a higher degree of accuracy. In other words the same marketing spend used to target a large demographic can be used in smarter, more exciting ways to target a smaller and more dedicated demographic.

It may mean that charities can ask more of their donors. Not just more money, but more of their time or involvement. Rather than charities saying ‘please donate’, inviting donors to ‘please join our conversation’ is a more interesting proposition. It’s the difference between a billboard that you can look up at and one you can step inside of.

The more a donor feels part of a charity, the more value they can add. For example, conventional methods might have meant asking donors to remotely gift a goat called Grayson to a family abroad. Rather than putting a picture of what may or may not be Grayson on direct marketing, and sending it to 20,000 people — why not launch a live goat streaming event of Grayson and his pals? Although registered donors would be the first to hear about Grayson, these donors would then be able to share the event with their friends and followers on social media — without needing to be concerned with GDPR. This transforms donors into brand advocates.

Such thinking is essential if GDPR is to lead to a decline in contactable donors. Let’s not forget that GDPR has come about partly as a result of excessive direct marketing by some charities. The question is not whether to comply with GDPR — it’s whether to continue using the same methods to reach donors — or instead opt to capitalise on this unique opportunity to create better targeted campaigns, that donors truly want to be part of.

Dan Ridge