RNLI axes opt-in as ‘perfect storm’ batters fundraising

rnli 2Lifeboat charity RNLI is ditching its belt and braces approach to gaining consent for marketing by scrapping its opt-in only regime to rely on legitimate interests instead, following warnings that the organisation is facing a “perfect storm” of rising demand and falling income.

In a statement, RNLI fundraising director Jayne George said: “We’re busier than ever but people are still dying and we’re facing a shortfall in funds. We need to take action to reduce our costs and raise more income so we can get back to living within our means and maintain our vital lifesaving service.”

The charity introduced the opt-in regime in January 2016, in the wake of the uproar over charity fundraising tactics triggered by the death of Olive Cooke. Its decision was in line with recommendations made in Sir Stuart Etherington’s fundraising review, which had predicted – wrongly as it turned out – that GDPR would enforce an opt-in regime anyway.

Even at the time, the charity predicted the move will leave a £36m hole in its coffers over the following five years.

However, this August RNLI warned that the charity was facing rising demand and falling donations after its accounts for 2018 showed that income fell by £7.2m and rising costs meant the charity had £28.6m less to spend on charitable activities than in the previous year.

Now George has admitted that while “well intentioned”, the opt-in decision has had a bigger impact than anticipated in reducing the charity’s ability to attract new supporters, raise funds, share safety advice and engage with people.

She added: “From tomorrow (October 3) RNLI will be moving to a legitimate interest-based approach to marketing and communications, which is fully compliant with data protection regulations and is in line with the approach taken by many other major charities.”

Under GDPR, organisations are able to use legitimate interest to contact people by post and phone for marketing and fundraising purposes, if the person can reasonably expect the organisation to do so.

About 500,000 supporters had agreed to opt in to receiving communications from the charity. George has admitted that RNLI does not have exact figures at this stage for how many new donors it hopes to recruit through legitimate interest or how much extra money it hopes to raise, and will have to conduct further tests.

She said moving to legitimate interest would allow the charity to send safety information to the 18,000 people who were signed up as donors by face-to-face donors on public beaches, who might be interested but had not necessarily consented to being sent such communications.

The charity will also by running trials of DRTV, which George said had never previously been done “in a meaningful way”, and look at potential new markets, as well as partnerships.

George concluded: “We’ve always been transparent about our approach to opt-in and are committed to sharing what we’re doing with others. We understand that this is a significant change, but we must take action to meet the challenges that the RNLI is facing today.”

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