Could the Etherington recommendations be an opportunity for charities?

Since the Etherington review laid down guidelines tackling “aggressive” fundraising practices last September, charities both large and small have been considering the impacts of the recommendations. CDN found out what they’re thinking at a roundtable held by Advanced NFP.

| 16th Feb 16
empty meeting room meeting room with a wooden table in the centre, four yellow chairs around it. Black wall with rectangular decor at the background, two lamps above. Concept of negotiations. 3D rendering

Since the Etherington review laid down guidelines tackling “aggressive” fundraising practices last September, charities both large and small have been considering the impacts of the recommendations and whether they’re equipped to put them into force.

To find out how they’re getting on, Charity Digital News went to a roundtable held by Advanced Business Solutions (Advanced), where third sector professionals from a variety of organisations aired their concerns about the sector’s recent regulatory changes, discussed the best ways of tackling them, and considered whether the upheaval might ultimately be a positive for the sector.

Making the FPS work for charities

There was a lot of ground to cover in just two hours, so proceedings kicked off with a discussion on perhaps the most pertinent issue: the Etherington review’s recommendation to establish a Fundraising Preference Service (FPS). The FPS would allow individuals to opt out of receiving communications from organisations, effectively serving as a hard reset for people who no longer wish to be contacted by charities, which could cause a dramatic drop in registered donors for charities.

“It’s important to get the messaging right with donors, or risk losing them for good under the new guidelines.”

Charles Bagnall, product manager at Advanced NFP, said: “It’s important to get the messaging right with donors, or risk losing them for good under the new guidelines. It’s vital to phrase opt-in statements carefully so as to avoid the problem whereby a very general opt-in statement left unticked will prohibit any future contact on any topic.”

As the lion’s share of fundraising communications tends to come from the same few charities, the table expressed concern that people will opt out with the intention of ending these communications, forgetting that this will cut them off from their favourite charities and organisations in one fell swoop. People aren’t making the connection between their charities and the big ones they receive the most mail from, one professional said.

table covered in junk mail

The table was asked whether it would be possible for charities can put an alternative model together that will work better for all organisations, including the smaller ones, for whom such big organisational change will be more detrimental. Those who cannot adapt to the changes might not survive, said Richard Craig, chief executive of Tech Trust.

A spokesperson from Advanced NFP, said that a lot of the Etherington recommendations will be implemented, that’s not up for debate, but it’s the responsibility of the charities to guide discussion so that it works better and for all charities.

Tackling the donor shortfall

The table discussed ways of arresting the possible decrease fall in donor recruitment, which one charity has been tackling since the rise of digital.

Digital has divided donor attention with all the alternative channels it provides, so why not take advantage of the possibilities these channels afford by engaging with supporters there? The opt out rules don’t apply in the world of social, so charities have free rein to communicate with their supporters there however they wish.

“Research supporters’ wishes, attitudes, and interests – remember that they want to be inspired.”

Some fundraising campaigns that originated on social media, such as Beating Bowel Cancer’s Decembeard, have been incredibly successful, opening up new supporter bases to charities.

making a donation

It’s also worth researching supporters’ wishes, attitudes, interests, and remembering that they want to be inspired, the head of fundraising at one well-known charity said. Finding out who they are will give a clear picture of how’s best to serve them.

Watch your data

The Charities Bill and Etherington review aren’t the only big changes to have an imminent impact on charities’ working practices. The invalidation of the Safe Harbor Agreement last October, which renders the transfer of any data from Europe to the US illegal, has presented its own set of practical challenges.

Donor data lives everywhere, and there are lots of ways it can leave an organisation, even inadvertently in day-to-day activities, which all need to be taken account of. For example, charities that use MailChimp to send their emails are sending EU data to the US-domiciled company. Similarly, charities that use external accounting software could be leaking donor information too.

“There are lots of ways data can leave an organisation.”

Forgotten data that lurks in the virtual bottom drawer on someone’s hard drive may accidentally contravene regulations, so it’s crucial that charities keep tabs on all of their data; where it’s coming from, where it’s going, and how it’s interconnected. One charity is taking a radical approach to this, telling the table they’re on a mission to “kill the spreadsheet” in their organisation.

But is putting all organisation information into a centralised database a wise move? Not all data belongs in the same place, Bagnall said. What’s important is getting clever at communicating between data, though an organisational structure that works for one charity might not work for another.

An opportunity for charities?

It will be a considerable task for charities to get their houses in order, though despite the extra investment it’ll take to ensure compliance, could the Etherington review’s recommendations present an opportunity for charities?

A product of following the recommendations will be improved quality of communications, Bagnall said. Organisations will most likely benefit from the joined up approach their IT, business and fundraising teams take to face the challenges the recommendations bring, and could become more adaptable because of it.

One person at the table said that it will allow organisations to be more “Amazon-like”, by delivering tailored experiences, while another said that it puts charities in a position to make strategic decisions about their organisations.

Another side effect of the recommendations will be increased competition on other media for “advertising space”. Anticipating a fall in the number of individuals they can communicate with, charities will move their fundraising efforts to elsewhere, such as direct response television.

Though in a decidedly digital world, the roundtable heard, there’s no communication that could make a bigger impact than a handwritten note from charity directors to say thank you for donating. While this is a sizeable investment time-wise, simple courtesies such as these can grow into great relationships for charities.

thank you note handwritten

While we may worry about getting the message right, after all, “people won’t remember what you said to them, only what you made them feel,” Craig said.

Visit Advanced’s website for further insight on the event.