As thankless tasks go, the Institute of Fundraising’s chief executive, Peter Lewis, must be wondering what he has done to deserve this one. Responding to Daily Mail-manufactured outrage about outbound charity marketing, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has tasked the IoF with reviewing the self-regulatory system under which charities operate. Likely outcome?
Individual charities are already following the rules, although a few tweaks might be required. Beyond that, there is virtually nothing that can be done.
Consider the problem. Charities need to solicit donations actively, from cash to committed giving and involvement in fundraising activities. Each individual cause is competing for limited money and time, so has to promote itself as much as it can afford to (provided those activities are generating a positive return on investment).
Direct marketing and face-to-face remain the cornerstones of this fundraising. Under existing rules in the IoF’s Code of Fundraising Practice, charities can use “reasonable persuasion”. In its recent investigation into this sector, the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB) suggested this should be changed. It also called for more clarity and control around consent, including being clearer with donors about whether they have opted-in to data sharing with third parties.
What the FRSB also called for was a limit to the frequency of charity approaches to each individual during the year. This is where the problem lies. Each fundraising organisation will have its own set of rules and models that determine the frequency of its outbound marketing. It may take multiple contacts to generate a response and, as any practitioner in the sector will tell you, limit those contacts and you risk losing that donation.
So will charities sign up to a self-denying ordinance which commits them to no more than, say, one contact per month? Possibly. The exact limit and how it gets policed could demand discussions that will make Greece’s debt settlement look easy, however.
But even that will not put an end to donors receiving high-frequency calls and letters. Affinity is the key to charity marketing, which is why causes share their data with other, non-competing organisations. Once you know an individual has a propensity to give to charity, they become a prime target.
A dozen charities could share data on the same donor. Even if they each commit to sending no more than a single contact each month, the prospect will still be getting 12 contacts each month, or roughly one every three days. That sort of level is exactly what the Daily Mail has been raging about, despite each campaign being entirely legal and permissioned.
It is hard to identify what mechanism could be created to sit between the consumer and the charity world which would filter these contacts - or why charities would agree to sign up to it. Who would arbitrate the frequency and set the rules? (Forget the idea of personal information management stores doing this job - they are a flawed and failed concept.)
Peter Lewis may yet find the solution and resolve the problem. Or the furore may simply die down as the Daily Mail finds other hares to chase. For charities that already do the right thing by their donors, while still seeking to maintain their revenues, it just looks like a case of damned if they do, damned if they don’t.