All in a good cause - why charities may have a claim for legitimate interest

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

According to Adam Bryan, director of partnerships and innovation at the Institute of Fundraising, “understanding what communication of data processes supporters reasonably expect or find appropriate for a charity to undertake can be quite difficult without prior research.”

With this in mind, online market research agency fastmap, with support from the Institute of Fundraising, undertook research in the charity sector to find out how different groups of supporters feel about various types of communication. This was done with the aim of increasing understanding in the charity sector around the use of a legitimate interest approach in the run-up to the GDPR compliance deadline and of giving charities a potential plan of action.

The report's authors stated that finding out what proportion of your database expects to be contacted by you or to have their data used in a certain way provides important context.risk assessment showing reasonable expectation of contact according to gender and channelThe market research agency carried out a survey of multiple charities and thousands of their supporters.

The key finding was that, “individual supporters within a given charity have different views of what activities they consider reasonable or appropriate,” according to David Cole, managing director of fastmap. They found the factors that have the greatest influence on a supporter’s response are gender, age, channel of most recent communication, and recency of most recent communication.

Fastmap categorised different communication activities as high, medium or low-risk, with any activity which fewer than 50% of a charity’s supporters would find reasonable being high-risk. The company also looked at the unique database of every charity that took part and showed the activities that their supporters were most open to.

“To demonstrate compliance and meet the criteria for transparency and accountability you need to know your customers and how to use the data you’re collecting,” said John Benjamin, partner at law firm DWF.

“Legitimate interest is about expectations which differ between individuals."

The report illustrated a risk assessment in which one charity did a breakdown of reasonable expectation of contact according to the supporter’s gender and five different communication channels. It showed that 90% of males had a reasonable expectation of contact through channel 2 which was low-risk. On the other hand, only 5% of females felt it was acceptable to be contacted through channel 4 and therefore this was deemed high-risk.This showed that “legitimate interest is about expectations which differ between individuals.”

Metal donations lock box

Fastmap considered three factors in relation to legitimate interest. The first factor was channel - whether a supporter has a reasonable expectation of contact through a certain channel of communication. These were post, email, telephone, text/SMS and social media.

The second factor was purpose, or whether the supporter has a reasonable expectation of being contacted about a particular subject. Purposes include petitions, fundraising invites, sponsorship updates, work updates, volunteering, raffles, training, merchandise as well as information on other ways to support and information on other areas of the charity.

The third legitimate interest factor is data processes. “If you use or analyse information of your supporters in order to prepare their communication, you need a legal basis for this,” the authors stated.

According to this report, there are seven data processes that are appropriate to use and analyse in a legitimate interest approach. These are supporter records and information, supporter donation history, publicly-available data, public Census information, credit rating information, website usage (cookie) information, and social media information.

"Context can be used to set the legitimate interest policy more confidently."

Once all the results were collated, fastmap was able to create an industry benchmark around the individual legitimate interest factors. “The benchmarked research enables you to see how you compare against your competitors in the sector,” said the authors.

They suggest that charities can supplement benchmark data with background information and thus create a context for their own performance. “This context can be used to set the legitimate interest policy more confidently by demonstrating, where appropriate, that the views of your supporters are ‘normal’,” they added.

The report ended by stating that it is up a charity to decide where to draw the line, however, the use of an evidence-based approach will help to justify the decision.