Fundraising news, ideas and inspiration for professional charity fundraisers

Promoting effective fundraising compliance: implementing the art of the possible, even if at first it seems impossible

Promoting effective fundraising compliance: implementing the art of the possible, even if at first it seems impossible

Alleviating client concerns regarding the practical measures that can be taken to comply effectively with protection in the contemporary fundraising environment has been high on my agenda these past 12 months. Clients, their trustees and sometimes the specialist agencies that they work with, often remain unclear and confused as to the practical measures that they can implement to assure compliance.

Despite this, to this point I’ve avoided writing anything about and compliance, not least because many of the previous contributions to the debate have done little to ease the concerns of practitioners and in some cases, have simply muddied the waters even further!

Having said this though, attending one of Howard Lake’s excellent Fundraising Camps just before Christmas, I was struck by the scope and depth of uncertainty and nervousness present in the fundraising environment and, more importantly, the stultifying impact that this is having on commissioning and delivering new fundraising programmes.

Yes, there is a lot of legislation to look at, and the prospect of getting it wrong in this climate can feel like playing Russian roulette with your charities reputation, especially when there are so many umbrella bodies with differing advice.

The Negative Impact of the ‘Ambiguous’ ‘Unambiguous’ Consent Debate!

Wherever you stand on the ‘one word debate’ that has ensued around the inclusion of ‘unambiguous’ in the demonstration of consent established in revised European Directive (the that will become effective in May 2018), there is growing consensus amongst lawyers and regulators that its practical application post 2018 will not necessarily require an opt-in response in all circumstances.

It is foolish then, and detrimental to fundraising performance in the interim, if we allow this debate to effectively halt what is otherwise effective and practical fundraising compliance across a range of different channels and techniques. Whilst we might have to live in a world where ironically there is ambiguity about the practical definition of the use of the term ‘unambiguous’(!), what I can say with a good degree of certainty, is ‘things aren’t going get any better in resolving this dry legal debate in the short term; so, as a profession, we had better get on and do something rather than do nothing at all’.

In this spirit of promoting practical compliance, here are few practical tips that have proved helpful to my clients over the past 12 months and which have enabled them to at least start to get their fundraising back on track.

Create an integrated compliance communications policy

Just like your brand values, everyone in the organisation needs to know how they are expected to behave when communicating with donors. With everyone following the same guidelines, supporters will know what to expect – there’s something very comforting about familiarity and it breeds trust.

Keep things simple

You don’t have to ask permission for every channel at once. Whilst choice is good, research has shown that too much choice is overwhelming and being asked to make too many decisions at once may inhibit the supporter’s response. Most of us have been guilty of leaving an onerous questionnaire or form (paper based or on-line) to one side in the ‘pile of things to do’ because we needed to make time to do it. Often, despite good intentions, it ends up not getting done.

Opt In, Opt Out?

Personally, although you don’t technically need opt-in in every instance, I would recommend moving towards opt-in as a demonstration of best practice. This may seem like a scary prospect, but you don’t have to do it over night. A well-structured plan to work through your data base will give you time to test and unless you have been abusing your supporters’ generosity (which the majority of charities haven’t), my experience of running opt-in campaigns indicates that you will be pleasantly surprised by the positive results you get.

Test wording/channel and frequency of contact offerings

In a recent opt-in campaign, I worked on, the opt-in rate went up by 12 percentile points when we contextualised what the supporter was ‘actually’ being asked to agree to.

Analyse, segment and work through different groups of donors sequentially

Just as in fundraising, good data analysis and segmentation will identify different donor groups who respond differently to a variety of approaches and wording in delivering truly effective compliance.

Start with the better supporters on your data base

This may seem like a risky tactic, but a small test will give you a good benchmark and in this way, you can extrapolate out what opt-in rates are likely to look like across the whole data base. This will give you confidence to understand the effect on your future fundraising and allow you to set cost effective cut off points for opting in less responsive supporters.

Equally, back analyse the data as you go along

Improve and refine your approach as you achieve positive or negative feedback, supporter segment by supporter segment.

You don’t have to publicise what you’re doing

I do understand why the organisations that have made a big public display of saying they are going to full opt in, and how much money they are going to lose as a result etc. have taken this approach – that’s a marketing campaign in itself. For organisations that don’t have massive reserves the pressure this approach can create isn’t necessary in the contemporary climate.

What if you make a mistake?

Clearly, legal compliance must be assured in all cases, but as you test and pilot alternative approaches to compliance, segment by segment, you might make a mistake. Don’t panic, in these circumstances the process itself, as initiated by yourself, is a demonstration to the regulators that you are trying to comply; learn from the experience and put a procedure in place to stop it happening again.

Of course, it’s frustrating that whilst the spotlight is being shone on the charitable sector much of the commercial sector continues to annoy with their un-wanted communications. And, it’s true that some of the advice in the sector is woolly and conflicting.

Whatever else happens in the future, it’s clear that having a plan and implementing it so that you can get on with your fundraising in the knowledge that you are compliant and protecting the interests of your supporters, and organisation, should be of central importance to trustees and fundraisers alike.

So, I hope that the practical measures that I have outlined here will promote or reinforce the existence of your own compliance programmes. Ultimately, their design and implementation will give you the surety to stop worrying about what might happen in the future and get on with raising money to help your cause, which after all is what donors want us to do.


Image: doves that have taken residence on my balcony, and are nesting (all be it at the wrong time of year) – just to prove the point, that what may seem impossible at first, can be possible if you have a plan, take a creative approach and think outside the box!


Jane Cunningham has been working in the forefront of fundraising for nearly 25 years. Known for the high quality of her fundraising practice and practical experience in segmentation and analysis, she has pioneered many new fundraising initiatives in the UK, Europe and the US. In everything she develops, she believes that the starting point should be to take the donors perspective, which will ultimately lead to developing the most effective strategic and creative responses; resulting in donor satisfaction and financial success.

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