Charities to work together on moving to ‘opt in’

One of the major challenges facing charities over the next couple of years is likely to come from the reform of data protection laws happening at EU level. New rules on how people’s personal information is collected and treated are going to mean that some charities will need to change how they communicate with their supporters and the wider public, especially when fundraising.

Although the rules aren’t expected to come into force until the end of 2017 at the earliest, charities are already starting to think about the implications for their activities and preparing themselves. The RNLI for example, announced last October that it was switching to an ‘opt-in’ system of communications, where individuals must expressly give their permission to be contacted.

Now that political agreement on the General Data Protection Regulation has been reached by the institutions of the European Union we are well into the final strait of this important EU reform process.

The shape of the EU’s future data protection framework is clearer, and particularly we know that a person’s consent to use of their personal data must be ‘freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous’.

In addition, one of the recommendations made by the review of fundraising regulation was that charities should review the use of their donors’ personal data and take steps towards adopting a system of ‘opt in’ in their communications. This was seen as a way in which charities could demonstrate to their supporters and the wider public their commitment to good fundraising practice, and to maintaining public trust and confidence.

But what does this mean in practice and how can charities ensure they achieve this?

NCVO working group

NCVO has set up a working group to think about these important questions and develop recommendations on how charities can address them. The working group’s full Terms of Reference are available here.

The group will be chaired by Michael Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross.

The other members of the group are:

  • Liz Tait, Director of Fundraising at Battersea Cats and Dogs
  • Eleanor Harrison, Chief Executive of Global Giving
  • Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of Shelter
  • Tim Hunter, Director of Fundraising at Oxfam
  • Mark Flannagan, Chief Executive of Beating Bowel Cancer
  • Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK

The group will also benefit from legal advice from a lawyer with expertise in data protection.

Reference group

There will also be a wider reference group, which will act as a sounding board throughout the process and help shape the working group’s recommendations. If your organisation wishes to be part please get in touch.


This is a complex but important piece of work, and it will be essential to get it right. Not only to ensure charities comply with the law but also to enable them to transition to the new regime in a way that is manageable and doesn’t have an impact on existing supporter and beneficiary relationships.

Over the next six months we will be engaging with charities, the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Charity Commission to ensure the recommendations help charities prepare for the new regime and meet the new obligations.

The working group will be reporting to NCVO’s trustee board before the summer.

So please keep an eye on the NCVO blog and follow me on Twitter to keep up to date on the group’s progress.


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Avatar photo Elizabeth was head of policy and public services at NCVO until 2020.

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