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Worried about your opt-in opt-out strategy? 

Worried about your opt-in opt-out strategy? 

You’re probably not the only one as I have received lots of questions this week about the conditions for processing supporters’ data. Many charities have decided to go for Opt-in only for the future, many more are confused.

So here’s my opinion on what you should do and the options available to you. 

There are in fact six conditions for processing subject data. I won’t cover them all here but there are three that you might be able to use in the future. 

1. Necessary for Contract

If you have sold a supporter something, as apposed to accepting a donation, you can communicate with them because of the contract and the need to legally fulfil that arrangement. So for example if they have subscribed to a magazine for the year, you have a legal obligation to service that and do as you said you would.

They have the right to complain and have legal recourse should you not fulfil your commitment to them. This would work well for example if you have a retail division to your organisation. 

2. Consent

Widely understood and definitely the best condition of the six. It must be given unambiguously, freely, in an informed way, specifically and you must be able to demonstrate you have it! Silence is effectively an opt-out.

Despite what you may have read consent does not lapse so once you have it you don’t need to renew if any time soon. You may wish to review the use of consent but that’s a very different thing. Only if a supporter opts-out should you consider you can no longer communicate with them.

But remember your consent will have been specific to a particular channel, make sure you record how you are communicating and flag specific consents accordingly. 

3. Legitimate interest

I strongly recommend you don’t overlook this important condition. The Legitimate interest condition is your interest to achieve an objective. So it might be for example to raise important funds to continue your work. After consent it might be your only condition and so it’s really important not to ignore it.

It is also the most misunderstood condition. For example you could use it to write to people (printed letter) with whom you don’t yet have consent to communicate. If the supporter hasn’t indicated they don’t want a telephone call and aren’t registered with TPS you’d use Legitimate interest to telephone them. Assuming you are not Opt-in only then it will be this condition that quite possibly will help you grow your income in the future. I’d use it, and you are well within your rights to use it too. 

My recommendation would be to offer your supporter the opportunity to Opt-out of printed communications or telephone calls every time you engage. A simple easily understood privacy notice printed in every DM pack or newsletter fro example will ensure you are clear and are treating your supporter fairly and in accordance with data protection.

This week alone I’ve spoken to three charities that felt they needed to go Opt-in only but weren’t really sure why, other than to say “That’s what the sector is doing right?”  My recommendation would be to explore all of the options, fully understand the implications and make an informed choice sooner rather than later.


Mark Burnett has many years experience in the charity sector as a fundraising consultant. He is the Treasurer and fundraising trainer for the Institute of Fundraising South East and London regions and committee member of the Consultants special interest group . He is an Associate Consultant for the NCVO, Director of charity partnerships at ClearComm, a GDPR compliance consultancy and a GDPR data protection Officer.

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