Charles Bagnall: How to recover and thrive in the post-GDPR era

 In news, updates

Since 25th May, there have been a host of stories about the fears charities are facing post-GDPR. Having spent months getting ready for the new legislation, claims abound that a potential significant drop in addressable supporters could cost charities anywhere from thousands, to millions of pounds in donations depending on their funding profile.

But are charities facing up to the warning signs – such as a reliance on income from direct marketing, rather than basing their support on different foundations. One high profile example is the RNLI who freely admit that their early adoption of fully opted-in marketing lists was underwritten with significant amounts coming from legacies. Similarly for charities where there is a high degree of public awareness of why support is needed, such as Médecins Sans Frontières, donations will continue to flow from media attention. However, charities not fitting either these profiles, or other models not dependent on traditional direct marketing, could be in for a shock.

And what about email communications? Many smaller charities have previously relied on the old-fashioned method of sending a mass email, sometimes with PDF attachments. How will GDPR affect them? In our survey carried out just before the 25th May, most charities we interviewed – 43 per cent – claimed they didn’t believe the impact of GDPR would have an effect on email levels, with them staying ‘about the same’. Only 15 per cent thought that they would ‘decrease a lot’. Could they be in for a nasty surprise? Customers we have spoken to think that on reflection, this optimism could be misplaced. While losing up to two thirds of an email list has not been unusual, one client we spoke to admitted that their email list had been culled by 90 per cent.

Charities ‘ahead of the game’

That said, plenty of charities have in fact been ahead of the game and made sure their preparations have put them in a strong position. We want to debunk the myths that all charities are sitting squirming, unprepared for the recovery – in fact, working with several charities, we know that many are indeed ready to thrive post-GDPR.

For example, with the research revealing consent to be the biggest GDPR concern for charities, the RSPB’s approach to consent has involved a continual and comprehensive programme across email and website to capture the relevant permissions. In a recent presentation fundraising director John Bines was able to confirm that RNLI is set to beat projected targets both for minimising income loss and for the time to get income levels higher than they were before the Opt-in project started.

Meanwhile, the Woodland Trust has focused a lot of energy on consent message testing to identify the communications most likely to engage and drive action. Losing some of your email list may not have a proportionate impact on income – even the client reporting a 90% loss of the email list reported that response numbers in absolute terms after the cull were only fractionally down on the original list.

‘Play to your digital strengths’

In this period of intense disruption, playing to your digital strengths can be key to unlocking potential. So, what should charities do to thrive in this new digital data era? We’ve put together five characteristics for successful charities in a post-GDPR world:

1.    They have in place one common view of supporters they know is engaged, across all channels, and who has slipped away. Engagement is key – the loyal followers will remain followers

2.    They have a fully connected view of donors – this means one tied back into the finance. When it comes to donations – money counts. As RNLI have found, the board will be happy as long as overall revenue shows early signs of recovery. Charities who know their regular donors, and those who respond to a crisis, will be the ones who have the right connections in place. In the digital world, people increasingly ‘subscribe rather than buy’, so having a membership scheme of some kind in place will really help with this.

3.    They invest in the right technology so that they can streamline administrative tasks, save costs and allow them to invest more time in the people that matter – supporters, members and stakeholders.

4.    They embrace the Cloud to ensure they are ready for the present challenges around GDPR and are better prepared to address threats such as cyber security. The recent hefty fine imposed by the ICO relating to data security in a charity has re-focussed everyone’s attention on this area. A cloud-based donor relationship management also provides secure, flexible access to key information, so fundraisers can access data to engage better with donors when out on the street, but with the responsibility for security largely delegated to professionals.

5.    They open up new channels for giving. As people increasingly use technology in their own lives, they’ll expect charities to use it too. Just as people bank or search for jobs online, they’ll also want to be able to donate quickly and effortlessly, or find a volunteering opportunity that’s relevant to them, using their mobile phone for donation forms, SMS, or QR codes.

In the post-GDPR era, charities are under more pressure than ever before. It is therefore vital that they have the right digital technology in place to allow them to communicate efficiently and effectively with their supporters in order to maintain and grow revenues.

Charles Bagnall is head of product management at Advanced.

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