Our recommendations on putting donors in control

Today we have published the report by the working group chaired by Mike Adamson, which was tasked with developing good practice recommendations on how charities should communicate with their donors for fundraising purposes, including how they manage and use donors’ personal data.

Why we did this

Over the past year the public have told charities on a number of occasions that they are concerned about the large, and growing, number of fundraising asks, as well as generally disliking some of the methods used to fundraise.

Furthermore, surveys of public trust and confidence in charities continually identify poor fundraising practices as a cause for concern, suggesting that improvements in this field could help improve public trust and confidence, and in turn potentially boost donations.

What the research says

The working group commissioned additional research to specifically look at people’s willingness to share their personal data with charities, based on their experience of donating and the communications they have received from charities.

The key findings make for some uncomfortable reading:

  • Only 36% of respondents trust that most charities will only contact them if they have given consent, showing a profound lack of trust in whether charities will only make contact where permission has been given and how personal information is used.
  • 46% of respondents would find it totally unacceptable and 14% unacceptable for their data to be shared with a charity, and overall there were very negative reactions to the thought of a charity making contact after data had been received / purchased from a third party.
  • The majority of respondents (59%) said that they would never agree to share their personal information with another charity or organisation.

But there were also some encouraging messages. In particular:

  • Two thirds of respondents said their trust would increase if charities were transparent and gave control over how personal data was held and shared.
  • Providing choices such as the option to opt-out at any time, the option to choose how to be contacted, and how often, have a positive impact and lead people to be more willing to share their data.

See the full research findings

What the recommendations say

The key question that the recommendations aim to address is: what is the right thing to do by donors, so that charities can develop enduring relationships, and in the long run build trust and support.

In answering this question, the working group agreed that an updated and consistent approach to consent is the foundation stone for a trusting relationship between charities and their donors.

The recommendations therefore adopt the approach that charities should have or obtain consent for all forms of direct marketing for fundraising purposes.

What difference will donors see?

These recommendations would mean donors would have more control about whether and how they hear from charities they support or have previously donated to. For example we’re recommending that when you donate by text, you have an option to do so without being contacted again.

They would also mean a considerable reduction in unwanted contact from charities, both by phone and post.

And they would mean it would be clearer to potential donors how their data is being used by charities and why charities are getting in touch. For example, we recommend that if a charity sends a letter to someone who has agreed to hear from ‘charities’, it will tell you where you did that, and also give you an easy way to say you don’t want to hear from them anymore.

Overall, donors and potential donors will be given more choice and see a more respectful use of their data by charities.

What will the recommendations mean for charities?

The recommendations suggest good practice, so it will be for each charity to judge whether and, if so, how to follow them. Most importantly, it will be the discretion, and responsibility, of the board of every individual charity to decide how to engage with their donors and potential donors in a way that promotes relationships that are enduring and based on trust.

If they decide to follow the recommendations, they will be demonstrating:

  • a willingness from the board downwards to develop true empathy with their donors and potential donors
  • a willingness to commit to an approach based on developing deeper, longer- lasting relationships with donors
  • a willingness to consider not only the individual impact of their approach but also the impact on trust in the charity sector as a whole
  • a willingness to operate transparently and respond to feedback even if it not in the short-term financial interest of the charity
  • a commitment to play their part in rebuilding trust in the charity sector based on a principled approach.

What next?

Now that the recommendations have been approved by NCVO’s board of trustees and published, we will submit them to the new Fundraising Regulator as our view on what the way forward should be. It will then be for the Fundraising Regulator to review the recommendations, consult appropriately and incorporate any changes in the Code of Fundraising Practice.


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

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