Charities can ring the changes with legitimate interest

vicky reevesWhile we may still be some way from seeing the UK Government’s plans to update data and digital regulations becoming law, there’s a quiet revolution going on in fundraising that leans on the key provisions of legitimate interest.

It’s been a tough few years for the charity sector. The death of Olive Cooke in 2015 resulted in industry introspection and fundraising reforms. Soon after, there was more upheaval as organisations got to grips with the implementation of GDPR, with three in 10 charities claiming the new law had caused their revenues to fall. The pandemic subsequently caused shockwaves that significantly undermined many fundraising efforts.

Against this difficult backdrop charities are now seeking additional ways to shore up revenues by reaching new donors. Pulling levers that go beyond tried and tested channels is a brave strategy. But organisations of all sizes and causes are beginning to experiment – and legitimate interest is key to their current efforts.

Rise of the telephone fundraiser
There’s nothing new about charities using telephone marketing to speak to donors. But in an era when opt-in dominates data regulations, use of landlines by consumers has fallen and people are savvier about managing their privacy preferences, dialling in phones as part of fundraising strategies has become attractive again.

action for childrenWe’ve noticed an uptick in charities stating in supporter emails that they’re changing their Ts & Cs to reflect new contact strategies. The language might be necessarily legal but the meaning is clear enough. Here’s one example, from Action for Children in July 2023 (pictured).

We’ve seen a similar message from Macmillan, and where big charities lead others tend to follow. What these emails are essentially stating is that fundraisers are switching from consent – generally, direct supporter opt-in to charity communications – to contact consumers using legitimate interest. As the text explains, that means express consent is no longer required for charities to make contact via phone and post.

The emails also confirm a move away from the GDPR’s ‘lawful bases’ of contact, to those contained in the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, 2003.

As long as the organisation has completed three requirements – that data is screened against an in-house suppression list; that it is also screened against the Telephone Preference Service; and that the organisation has completed a Legitimate Interests Assessment (LIA) – phone and post fundraising is fair game.

Charities opting to employ a legitimate interest strategy, and fulfilling the points above, need only refrain from using these channels if the consumer has specifically opted out of them.

New regulations may mean more opportunities
Further change is on the cards, with the Data Protection & Digital Information Bill (DPDI) currently making its way through the Houses of Parliament.

The Government agreed to tweak the text following discussions with lobbying groups making the case for fundraisers and marketers, including the DMA.

The Bill doesn’t propose changes to telemarketing rules, meaning charities and other organisations will still be able to rely on legitimate interest if and when it enters the statute books. In fact, a proposed change to DPDI is to strengthen the case for legitimate interest as a lawful basis for direct marketing generally. This could happen by adding explicit wording to Article 6 of UK GDPR, giving organisations greater legal certainty.

Less certain, however, is the timetable for DPDI. It was expected to progress, possibly to become law, this autumn. However, latest reports suggest the legislative timetable may not be on the Bill’s side, given we are no more than 12 months away from a General Election, and possibly less.

Nevertheless, charities clearly believe they are on to something with a renewed phone-based approach to fundraising. So, if you’ve been wondering whether using legitimate interest for fundraising is a grey area or fully compliant, the answer is the latter. As long as you follow the rules, it’s a good option.

How to introduce legitimate interest to donors
We’re receiving a greater volume of requests for help in this area from our charity clients, and we’ve already helping some of them ring the changes. goDonate powers donation experiences for many large charities. We generally see active opt-in rates for phone fundraising communication of only around 2% to 3%. But when legitimate interest is used the uptake is significantly higher.

In two examples of legitimate interest experiences designed for charities, Oxfam requests potential supporter’s phone number as part of the donation form, and later in the Stay in Touch section, while the YMCA donation form also asks for the recipient’s phone number, and revisits the request when requiring contact preferences.

Impactful donation forms can be built to reflect the specific requirements of donor journeys, such as the most effective point to highlight communications preferences, ask for a donation, and present different payment types including digital wallets that include Apple Pay and Google Pay. They can therefore be a useful forerunner to using legitimate interest as a basis for contact via phone and post.

For sure, forthcoming changes to data regulations may well shift the fundraising focus again. As always, clear and helpful communications from charity teams can provide inspiring and seamless donor journeys, while also opening new routes to have conversations with them and secure valuable gifts.

Vicky Reeves is managing director of goDonate

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