One industry expert claims the opt-in policy adopted by many charities to comply with GDPR has been a “disaster”. Another says it has “severely diminished” the ability of some charities to raise money. But is there an over-emphasis on how many people are on databases, and not enough on how charities can build relationships with those who are?
I was interested to read earlier this month that life-saving charity RNLI has chosen to abandon its opt-in only policy for communicating with potential donors. This is an about turn by RNLI, which has since 1 January 2017 only contacted people by phone, post or email if they have actively given their consent. They took the decision to do this to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that came into force in May 2018 and as a response to the fundraising scandals of 2015.
Instead of opt-ins, RNLI will now rely on the concept of “legitimate interest” to contact potential donors. (It has said it will not contact people who had previously been given the choice to opt-in and had not done so.)
The charity’s change of stance has been prompted by rising costs and a £7.2m fall in income in 2018, which have led to the charity having £28.6m less to spend on charitable activities this year.
The charity’s fundraising director, Jayne George, says the change to legitimate interest will give it “a more flexible way to engage” with potential supporters. Note the use of the word “engage”.
In contrast, Cancer Research UK followed RNLI’s announcement by saying it has no plans to move to legitimate interest. Ed Aspel, the executive director of fundraising and marketing at the charity, said that “those who do choose to hear from us are more engaged and therefore more likely to support us”.
There’s that word “engage” again, which I’ll come back to in a minute.
“The move to consent… has been a disaster”
RNLI is not alone in seeing its database shrink following the implementation of GDPR. A recent survey by nfpSynergy (with Third Sector) found that 53 per cent of charities had seen their email database reduce due to complying with GDPR. Postal and telephone databases have also been affected.
Joe Saxton, the founder of nfpSynergy, said: “Given that people might have spent years building up these databases of supporters, this could mean a large set of income-generating and relationship-building opportunities that are no longer possible.”
She continued: “Some organisations will have seen their opportunities to raise money severely diminished.”
Ian MacQuillin, a director of think tank Rogare, wrote on similar lines recently in Third Sector saying: “The move to consent as the recommended mechanism for GDPR compliance has been a total disaster.”
But does a smaller database necessarily mean few donors and supporters?
MacQuillin believes charities should look more closely at the factors that lead to the 2015 fundraising crisis. These, he claims, “are likely to be much deeper than ‘charities were over-contacting donors’”.
“The question we haven’t asked is why were charities over-contacting donors? What were the causal powers leading them to do this? And could we put in place solutions, so they don’t need to, such as invest more in relationship fundraising?”
This brings us around again to “engagement” and “relationships”. The idea behind ‘relationship fundraising’ is to recruit donors by building a strong personal relationship with them lasting several years.
Rather than chase one-off gifts, the aim is to have donors who closely identify with the charity and are likely to contribute to it for years to come. The process of building this relationship is often described in terms of the ‘donor journey’. This journey goes through four key stages that can be roughly stated as awareness, exploration, expansion and commitment.
Data analytics and the donor journey
This begs the question: how do you do this? How do you successfully lead donors along the donor journey?
The answer partly lies in analytics. Analytics can enable you to examine your current donor base to find out what fires them up, help you develop relevant messages and track responses, and finally, understand from social media what people similar to the donors you are interested in are talking about and what they are interested in.
Quite rightly RNLI’s Jayne George talks about needing to “engage people meaningfully”. It’s the “meaningfully” part that is important. Where many charities fall down (and I’m not suggesting for a moment that RNLI is one) is in having the tools to do this.
As always with data analytics, the starting point is to identify your goal: in this case, building long-term, meaningful relationships. Next is ensuring you collect the data you need (and if necessary putting in relevant systems to get it). Finally, comes the human part of analytics, which is sometimes overlooked. This is identifying what the data is telling you and being agile enough to change the way you operate so that you can meet your goals.
Please contact Tim Shaw on 020 3475 0094 or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to discuss how data analytics can improve the performance of your charity.