Fundraising news, ideas and inspiration for professional charity fundraisers

DMA’s whitepaper explains how organisations can better support vulnerable customers

DMA’s whitepaper explains how organisations can better support vulnerable customers

The Association’s Vulnerable consumer taskforce has published a whitepaper explaining how organisations can better cater to vulnerable customers or donors.

At the heart of the taskforce’s findings are that any customer has the potential to be vulnerable and the need for organisations to recognise this and respond accordingly. There is no single definition of what makes a customer vulnerable.

The whitepaper will likely prove useful to many charities who are and have been tackling the issue of donors who are vulnerable, given the prominence of that issue in some of the media and government criticisms of some charities’ fundraising activities in 2015.

The DMA’s whitepaper ‘The vulnerable consumer’ begins by highlighting the challenge in defining vulnerability. It opens by asking: “How many of your customers are vulnerable? How about now?”

No single definition of vulnerability

The DMA Vulnerable consumer taskforce sought input earlier this year at an open workshop from experts and marketers from various industries, including eight representatives of charities.

A key lesson was that vulnerability was often a changing condition, with customers potentially experiencing anything from short-term distractions to more long-term illness.



Indeed, the whitepaper points out that some situations and circumstances that people consider usual and unremarkable “can make a customer vulnerable at a particular moment”. For example,  “being caught at the wrong moment, whilst distracted by something more important or feeling social pressure, can cause someone to be more vulnerable in that moment and make a decision they wouldn’t in another context”.

Consequently, it is essential for organisations to consider training staff to recognise and understand this.


Elaine Lee, Co-Chair of the DMA vulnerable consumer taskforce and Managing Director at ReynoldsBusbyLee, commented:

“It’s vital that businesses keep in mind that vulnerability is a very changeable and contextual state. Any illness, condition, stress or disadvantage is likely to change over time – whether for the better or worse – and will usually affect your customer differently in any given situation. It’s crucial that everyone in an organisation, not just those that are customer-facing, understand this and are not simply defining vulnerability as obvious factors such as physical or mental disabilities”.


What to do

The whitepaper offers some guidance developed as a result of the workshop and other input.

Jacqui Crawley, Co-Chair of the DMA vulnerable consumer taskforce and Managing Director at KMB, explains:

“Ultimately, the best way to mitigate vulnerability is to meet your customer’s needs on a one-to-one basis and, wherever possible, to give them the power to control their own experience. For example, by the simple act of enabling them to choose the channels that work best for them and interact at their own pace, on their own terms, to achieve their own preferred outcome.”

One approach is to avoid putting a customer in a vulnerable position:

“A customer can be vulnerable simply by being placed in a situation that fails to meet their needs, in which they
are not fully aware, and therefore are unable to make an informed decision”.

The whitepaper lists a series of suggestions including:

  • “Strike the right balance between standardising aspects of one-to-one marketing to improve usability or convenience
    while still offering enough flexibility for each customer to navigate their journey in the way they find most suitable”.
  • “Simply ask your customers to learn about their vulnerabilities. Use indirect as well as direct questioning
    throughout their customer journey to understand their current ability to make the right decision.”
  • “Build simple checkpoints into your customer’s journey. For example: replay the customer’s behaviour back to them, such as asking “are you sure you want to perform this action?” or telling them how much they have spent accumulatively.”
  • “Provide alternative means of communication to suit different vulnerabilities: such as large print, Braille, foreign
    language, offline and online, and written, aural and visual formats.”
  • “Make sure your organisation is easy to contact and interact with: for example, providing live agents to speak to as well
    as automated systems, email as well as postal addresses and specific departments to contact for particular queries.”

It also includes practical guidance on how to adapt different marketing channels, including face-to-face, social media, email, print media, and advertising.

It concludes with a checklist offering “Top tips for approaching vulnerability in your day-to-day activity”.

You can download The vulnerable consumer from the DMA.

One day vulnerable consumer training workshop

The DM Trust, set up to support initiatives that promote fairness to consumers, is partnering with the DMA to offer a one-day vulnerable consumer training workshop. The session is designed to train managers working in contact centres and enable them to pass their new knowledge back to their organisations.It will be lead by the DMA vulnerable consumer taskforce’s Co-chairs, Elaine Lee and Jacqui Crawley. The next session will be held on 27 September.


Howard Lake is a digital fundraising entrepreneur. Publisher of UK Fundraising, the world's first web resource for professional fundraisers, since 1994. Trainer and consultant in digital fundraising. Founder of Fundraising Camp.

Get free email updates

Keep up to date with fundraising news, ideas and inspiration with a weekly or daily email. [Privacy]

* We do not share your email or personal details.
" />