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ICO gives charities a new reason to be optimistic about GDPR

ICO gives charities a new reason to be optimistic about GDPR

At last! After months of speculation and uncertainty, the charity sector has had some much-needed good news from the Information Commissioner’s Office regarding the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Its charity FAQs have confirmed that consent to market to donors is not required if you are using direct mail and relying on legitimate interest. This is major news for the sector!

The charity sector has been paralysed with fear since the Etherington review. And the imminent arrival of GDPR has done nothing to ease that fear. However, today we now know that Direct Mail can return as the mainstay of a fundraiser’s armoury. The same channel that I am sure will herald the resurgence in charitable marketing, both pre and post-GDPR. With so much nonsense being spoken by so many ‘overnight experts’ dominating the conversation, charities should welcome this black and white advice from the ICO with open arms.

The advice states that “you won’t need consent for postal marketing… you can rely on legitimate interests for marketing activities if you can show how you use people’s data is proportionate, has a minimal privacy, and people would not be surprised or likely to object.”

We’ve long since suspected this to be the case, but we were surprised to see such a significant piece of clarity tucked away like a footnote in a weighty tome. And this isn’t just good news for charities – this applies to all businesses.

Opt out regret?

For charities that took the knee-jerk decision to offer their donors the opportunity to opt out before awaiting this advice, this will be a painful moment. They aren’t able to wind the clock back, as those that have opted out have, of course, opted out for good. Those charities that have waited patiently for the ICO to provide definitive advice, this is your time to really review your direct mail capabilities and opportunities.

Over the last few years, we have witnessed a shift in the way direct mail is viewed. When thinking about the range of channels available to marketers today, like email, SMS or voice calls, direct mail is a comparative saint. There are so many reasons for this: from the fact that it has become remarkably unobtrusive, to the way its tactility can create real connections with the recipient. For charities, direct mail has the ability to relay real brand value, something which is increasingly difficult in today’s competitive landscape. In light of the ICO guidance, I strongly believe we’ll see its resurgence, based on the results it delivers in terms of ROI but also in brand building.

How charities build relationships with donors has never been more important. GDPR puts consumers in control of their data and how it is used, and this in turn will lead to more open, honest and transparent donor relationships, which is good for consumers AND good for NFPs. Once charities have access to data, they must use it to build real personal engagements with each donor based on their preferences. And of course, with communications that are timely, relevant, and most importantly, have satisfied a balancing test that you have good reason to contact the individual.

Finding a balance between GDPR and PECR and the channels that those regulations affect is not an easy task but is business critical for any charity looking forward. Every charity will now have to be absolutely sure that they have certainty around a person’s choices and preferences in terms of both how their data is processed and used. Database management for NFPs has just got a whole lot more complicated. While a cautious approach to GDPR is understandable, this new guidance comes directly from the highest authority and therefore should be immediately acted upon.

I applaud the ICO for its advice and hope it continues to offer guidance which allows charities to prepare for GDPR. Not only will this provide the clarity the charity sector has been waiting for, but it will also put an end to the scaremongering that we’ve seen far too much of in recent times. If this new piece of guidance is anything to go by, there is positive light at the end of the GDPR tunnel for charities and their donors, who will both benefit from more open, transparent and trust-based communication.


Mark Roy - REaD Group

Mark Roy is founder and chairman of REaD Group.


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