Could new charity regulations increase use of direct mail?

Richard Stuart-Turner
Monday, November 9, 2015

There is likely to be change ahead for printers that produce charity mailings after the government agreed to create a new register, the Fundraising Preference Service, to which members of the public could subscribe to opt out of all charity contact.

This was one recommendation that came out of a government-commissioned review led by Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations.

It also recommended the Fundraising Standards Board be replaced by a new watchdog, funded by a charity levy, which would have powers to stop “aggressive” charities from contacting potential donors and would regulate the Fundraising Preference Service.

Charities that fail to comply would be referred to the Charity Commission and could ultimately be banned from seeking donations while under investigation.

Meanwhile Etherington has encouraged charities to implement guidelines drawn up by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) for dealing with vulnerable customers, first published in 2012.

The review is the latest in a series of developments putting charity fundraising under increased scrutiny following widespread media coverage and subsequent public anger over the death of poppy seller Olive Cooke.

Cooke was said to have killed herself after being inundated with thousands of letters and phone calls from charities, although her family has since said charities were not responsible for her death. Nevertheless, measures and guidelines have been strengthened.

Following a strengthening of the fundraising code, charities will also be banned from selling an individual’s data on to a third party.

The government also announced in July that it would introduce amendments to the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill currently going through Parliament.

These require third-party, commercial fundraisers to include terms in their contracts explaining how they protect vulnerable people from excessive pressure in their fundraising practices. 

Charities with an income of more than £1m would also be required to set out their approach to fundraising in their trustees’ annual reports.

Many changes governing charity fundraising practices have already been implemented while it is expected that the majority of the other significant changes will be agreed at an upcoming summit between all of the major players in fundraising regulations.

David Ainsworth, editor of charity news publication Civil Society News, says charities have, in effect, voluntarily signed up to the new, more stringent self regulation but that the minister for civil society, Rob Wilson, has strongly suggested that the government will step in if strong voluntary action isn’t taken.

“More powerful than all of those changes are charities’ own internal attitudes to how they plan to engage with supporters. I think the rules that will enforce change are probably less important than the psychology of change,” says Ainsworth.

The case for print

Printers dealing with charity work may be hit by the proposed changes, as the volume of mailings sent out is likely to decrease. However, some analysts believe charities could in fact increase printed DM volumes.

“People have pulled back, certainly on the phone side and I suspect the same is true in the mailpacks side,” says Elaine Lee, director at marketing consultancy ReynoldsBusbyLee.

“Some of my charity clients are continuing to contact their existing supporters but others have pulled back or even absolutely stopped because of their concerns. Nobody wants to be upsetting anybody unintentionally.

“I think there will be a switch back to mailing because it’s slightly less intrusive: you can choose whether or not you open your post and whether or not you choose to continue to engage with it. However, there is an issue with the volume of direct mail going out.”

Ainsworth says the Independent Commisioner’s Office (ICO) has also announced changes regarding how it’s going to enforce compliance with the Telephone Preference Service, which could further lead charities to return to direct mail.

“Those changes could make it impossible for many charities to ring up to 70% of their supporters,” he says.

However, he supports the view that there is likely to be a move away from bulk mailing.

“Charities are talking a lot about quality rather than quantity, about the need for supporter engagement and about the need for conversations with individuals. They are moving away from this concept that you can base it all on volume and that volume will succeed,” he explains.

Howard Hunt managing director Lucy Edwards says the firm’s charity clients are already working to ensure they continue best practice.

“The charities we work with are working with all the fundraising industry bodies to come up with a best practice so that they can self regulate and we’re working with them to ensure that our best practice aligns with theirs, which it does,” she says.

“We’re very conscious to ensure that people who don’t want to be mailed aren’t mailed, and to make sure the data is as clean as possible.”

The next challenge for charities is conforming to the new regulations in a way that ensures the charity sector can survive.

“Charities need to continue to fundraise because without public support we’ll be in a big mess in 12 months’ time, when incomes are down and beneficiaries will lose out on services they desperately need,” says Lee.

But Ainsworth remains optimistic: “The evidence on whether a reduction in the total number of approaches leads to a reduction in donations is very open to debate.

“There’s likely to be a short-term hit, but I would be surprised if the long term impact on charities – even on donated funds – is particularly significant.”


Marketers should take time to get their houses in order

jade-brennanJade Brennan, head of comms, DMA

Looking after the interests of vulnerable consumers is no longer ‘nice to have’ for a business, but a necessity. Cases where sales approaches to vulnerable consumers have been unintentional, still make a brand look complacent.

The recent Etherington review into charity fundraising found holes in some of the campaigns run by Britain’s biggest charities. The public reaction was significant and predictable – horror, disbelief and shock.

In some campaigns, vulnerable consumers may have been deliberately targeted. This generated front-page news. And rightly so.

In 2012, the DMA Contact Centres and Telemarketing council embarked on a project to protect vulnerable consumers by making marketers aware of their responsibilities to them. Those not able to make informed decisions need a safety net.

The guidelines, which were praised by Etherington, showed marketers what to look out for, such as repeated buys (one possible indicator of dementia) or how the word ‘yes’ might be used - is it just to agree or is it a definite commitment to buy? 

This year we have updated the guidelines and produced a series of training materials that any business can use. We hope they will.

It’s not just relevant for telemarketers. Over the summer, another criticism was the volume and tone of charity mailings. How can a business or charity succeed if its aim is to make its customers feel guilty?

Charities and their agencies have to treat customers with respect.

If the new Fundraising Preference Service comes into effect, as recommended by Etherington, it will be easier for consumers to opt out of all charitable messages - print, phone, email, everything.

So now is the time for charities and their agencies to get their houses in order and focus on what we love about charities – their ability to make us feel good, knowing we have done some good.


How will new charity regulations affect print businesses?

tara-picklesTara Pickles, head of marketing, GI Solutions

“Charities are going to be focused on meeting new regulatory standards for communication and, as such, in the short term it does seem likely that overall mail volumes will be affected. However, charities are expected to raise funds for their causes and mail has traditionally been seen as an effective way of approaching donors for responses to both emergency appeals and to support specific campaigns. As mail is considered to be trustworthy and allows charities to fully explain their proposition, volumes will always be there.”

sarah-wilesSarah Wiles, managing director, Snap Print Management

“Charities rely on the general public in order to continue their good work; the question is how do they communicate with their audience? So long as the message and communication with the audience is targeted and relevant, direct mail is one of the most engaging forms of marketing yet. I know the charities we work with are highly responsible in their approach to communication and cold data lists are also fully vetted to ensure they are communicating with supporters who would wish to receive their message.”

lucy-edwardsLucy Edwards, managing director, Howard Hunt

“There’s an absolute desire from the charities we work with and from us to work within best practice and ensure vulnerable people don’t feel overwhelmed by the messages that are out there. The charities that we work with are extremely careful about how they communicate with supporters and do not phone or mail somebody again who doesn’t want to be contacted again. We haven’t seen any real difference to the volumes the charities we work with are going to send out because they really were doing best practice beforehand.”

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