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Your webinar questions answered


On 9 January 2017 the DMA hosted a webinar to discuss the costs and benefits opt-in and opt-out consent for fundraising.

This was prompted by a number of charities moving towards using opt-in consent for their fundraising communications. The law does not require this and opt-out campaigns are often of great value to supporters and drive positive engagement.

Taking part in the webinar was RNLI marketing manager Sara Thompson, DMA head of legal, compliance and the preference services, John Mitchison and Dotmailer client services director, Skip Fidura.

During the discussion listeners could ask questions but unfortunately there was not enough time to answer them all. The remaining questions have been answered by RNLI marketing manager, Sara Thompson, and the DMA legal and external affairs teams.

The first set of questions were answered by Sara Thompson:

So are you doing any cold campaigns now?

We won’t be sending any campaigns directly to individuals unless they’ve given us their permission to do so. We will still do Face-to-Face activity in public places (e.g. beaches and events, not door-to-door activity), ad campaigns etc. We will not do any sort of cold mailing or door drop activity.

What database do you use, and how did you record their opt-in against their record?

We currently use a database called Charisma and will be transitioning to Microsoft CRM Dynamics this year. The opt ins are recorded as a marketing indicator (‘flag’) on the records of those people who have given us permission to keep in touch, by channel.

Please could you remind us how many supporters you had initially to communicate with, if you have 450k who opted-in?

Out of the two million people we had on our database, we chose 900,000 to contact during the campaign, via mail, email and telephone. Our media and ATL activity will have potentially reached more, and also reached a cold audience.

How many supporters RNLI contacted in total to achieve 450K opt-ins?

We contacted 900,000 people directly during the campaign, via mail, email and telephone. Our media and ATL activity will have potentially reached more, and also reached a cold audience.

Did the RNLI have to do much work to your CRM to make opt-in work?

Not a lot of development was required to record the opt ins, but this project was so much bigger than that! We reviewed all supporter data held across the organisation and all data capture points and all of these were mapped, updated in line with opt in and any flows of data into CRM had to be developed to capture the new information and put it in the correct place – this element of the project took 12 months + development time.

Sara, how early on in the process did you involve and brief the creative?

We went out to tender for the creative aspects of this work in December 2015. We then started to work very closely with the chosen agency from January 2016. We briefed them at several different stages during the year. We had weekly phone status calls with them and monthly F2F meetings, as well as various specific brainstorm sessions etc. They were integral part of our success.

We also worked closely with our internal Creative Services team to design some of our Community and volunteer focussed material, and our internal material, as they are experts in the appropriate tone of voice etc.

So was that also local from a geographical point of view or only 'product' specific opt-in?

For the main campaign, we focussed on channel specific opt ins. Anyone opting in at a ‘local’ level around the coast of the UK and ROI was opting in to hear from their local station/branch etc., so yes, there was an element of geography.

Sara, what media channels worked best for you and what channels are you exploring now?

The bulk of response came via our targeted channels, Mail and Online, but Social Media performed very well for capturing Opt Ins from a cold audience, especially Facebook.

We are looking at a range of channel options based on the audiences we are seeking to engage and retain now and in the future.

Sara mentioned positive results from recent summer and Christmas appeals. How did these compare to previous appeals?

Our 2016 summer appeal went to 60,000 of our newly opted in supporters and we received over £500,000 in donations – that’s a return that’s 3 times our previous one (average £8.43 per request compared to £2.71). However, this was the first fundraising appeal we’d sent to our newly opted-in supporters. While it’s a very encouraging result, we still need to see if we can sustain it, what it means for our long term income and what the net impact is. Our appeals are delivering much better response rates as we are only targeting those who have opted in. It has also meant that our net income is better as we are spending less by contacting fewer of those individuals who had a lower propensity to respond.

How does RNLI's strategy cover new supporter acquisition (if at all)?

This is still a core part of our strategy. Right now we’re working through how we can do this in our new opt-in approach.

How are you growing engagement with supporters - will it be through traditional methods of fundraising or do you have a second project in place for 2017?

We were already looking at new ways to engage new and existing supporters before we decided to move to opt-in. We’re thinking about how we create a sustainable funding strategy for the future. This includes looking at how we use our existing assets like lifeboat stations – could these be a way to engage with more people, not just about fundraising but also to educate people about safety or recruit volunteers? So we’re looking at using a combination of new and traditional fundraising methods to grow engagement and this will be a focus for 2017.

Can you confirm what the % is of supporters that opted in, what does the 450,000 figure relate to in terms of your total original database?

In terms of our original database of 2 million people, this would be an opt in percentage of 22.5%. Out of the 900,000 supporters we contacted, asking them to opt in, 50% have opted in (compared to an anticipated opt in rate of 28%!)

Are you looking to increase your online opt-in Donor Acquisition campaign for 2017?

Like most charities, we’re looking at how to use our online offerings and channels to increase engagement, grow our supporter base and deliver our lifesaving messages. We’re still in the process of deciding what we’re going to focus on.

I have a couple of questions for Sara. Can you talk us through some of the challenges faced when dealing with regional branches who perhaps do not have as nuanced an understanding of opt-in/consent-based marketing as us marketers? Specifically, how did you bring round naysayers to your way of thinking? You also talked about working with regional branches to find other ways of engagement with their supporters. Could you expand on this?

We found our regional branches were supportive of the move to opt-in – as fundraisers working or volunteering in the community they understood why we thought it was important to make a move that built trust and engagement. They were less enthusiastic when they realised that they would need to change some of their own processes and the work that would take. We created a working group made up of staff from these areas who would own this part of the project. They worked hard to provide guides, Q&As and talk to people at webinars, Branch meetings and regular conferences. We were helped by having a good cascade system already in place. The challenges were the complexity of applying opt-in to specific situations and the nuances that involved. We also had to make sure people understood that the move was not optional – but do so in a way that motivated people. Some of the hardest to reach were volunteers at lifeboat stations as they didn’t have the same swift understanding of why we were moving to opt-in and how it would affect them. We did a lot of work to get senior management and peer-to-peer advocates involved in helping to get the message across.

Have the RNLI ruled out contacting supporters who have not opted-in on a legitimate interest basis? Have they any thoughts on how to reconcile the tension between asking for opt-in consent and using the legal right to contact current and lapsed supporters using legitimate interest?

Where a legitimate interest argument existed, we would discuss each case in the working group and see if it fitted with the opt-in principles. So legitimate interest wouldn’t automatically mean we could contact supporters without an opt-in.

Understanding how we can market through social media, particularly retargeting and using data lists, is a topic that seems to come up time and time again at the moment. Are the RNLI offering a social media opt-in?

Not currently, no. Nor did we do this as part of the campaign. We believe that by liking or following us on Social Media, this is an indication of a supporter that they are happy to hear from us via Social Media. They can also opt-out easily at any time.

When did you start the opt-in project Sara and how were decisions communicated to the other teams?

The decision to move to opt in was made in October 2015, though strategic thinking had been ongoing for several months prior to that. We started work on the campaign in January 2016.

Opt in was given priority within the RNLI and was therefore communicated and supported by senior management.

During the year we presented to various different business functions; our colleagues in the RNLI College, the Face to Face Team and the Community Lifesaving Team among others to ensure they understood the background of the decision and the benefits of moving to opt in, to get their buy in as soon as possible. We ran more detailed webinars for specific teams, we produced Q&As, we kept our internal intranet up to date with information and we shared the latest results with as much of the business as we could.

We are currently creating a ‘team talk’ kit for Managers; this will encourage them to talk to their teams in the team meetings about the success of opt-in, what it means for them, and how they can become advocates to encourage others to opt-in.

What about supporters who haven’t opted in with this campaign, but may in future re-engage? Will all their previous donor history be lost as presumably previous contacts who have not yet opted in will not be transferred to new CRM?

No, currently we will not delete any supporters from our database just because they have not opted in; they are just not flagged as opted in to marketing communications. You can still donate to the RNLI, be a member, volunteer for us without opting in, so your details will still be on the database to service these relationships. For any other supporters on our database we only retain data as long as necessary in line with Data Protection requirements

RNLI - Those regular supporters/ high value/ major donors/ legacy pledgers who haven’t opted in - have they been sent some form of follow-up letter, or are they now just regarded as lost supporters?

Anyone who hadn’t opted in by 31/12/16 will no longer be contacted by the RNLI, aside from any admin communications relating to direct debits, membership renewals etc. We are hoping that some of our supporters will re-engage with us during the next few months; this may be because they realise they have stopped receiving any communication from us, or because they are interested in something they see on Social Media etc.

Are Newsletters included in the new opt in or again are they classified as servicing

If a newsletter is classed as part of a member ‘benefit’, i.e. the magazine which is sent quarterly to all of our members, this will continue to be sent regardless of whether or not the supporter has opted in. However, any newsletters not specifically classed as part of a member benefit will not be sent unless the supporter has explicitly told us they want to hear from us.

Hello, great presentations. Could you please clarify how long the whole process/project took from conception, please?

By 2015, we were already reassessing the way we raised money for our lifesaving service. From disbanding our fundraising department and embedding it into our frontline services to looking at new ways to fundraise in response to the rising costs and falling responses of traditional methods – we knew that we needed to make significant changes. During the summer of 2015, the public response to media reports about questionable fundraising practices and proposals to change charity regulation prompted us to bring that work forward and move to opt-in communications for our supporters.

The decision was made to move to opt in in October 2015 and the project to implement that decision started soon after. Although the campaign itself has now finished, we are still working closely with the various business functions to ensure they fully understand the impact of opt in on their roles.

What was RNLI's approach to permissions for their comms before this change? (ie was it opt-out only)

We had been opt-in for email for some time. We operated on an opt-out basis for mail and telephone, but had been adhering to TPS.

What are the next steps for continuing opt in or do you see this as a one off activity for the 450,000 supporters? How will you keep Opt in up dated?

The opt-in campaign was a one off and we will no longer be contacting supporters who have not opted in. However, if we are approached proactively by new supporters, we will be asking them if they want to opt in.

The second set of questions were answered by the DMA legal and external affairs teams:

Are Lottery players included in the new regulations, as most lottery communications would they not be perceived as enhancing programme? i.e. servicing

Data protection laws apply to any organisation processing personal data, so this will include lottery companies. Some of their communications will be service related – direct debits, terms and conditions – but most will be marketing communications as they will be promoting their brand and products.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) applies to any organisation processing an individual’s personal data and this includes lottery players.

Doesn't it anger you that companies/political parties are not under the same tough rules as NFPs?

Data protection rules are the same for fundraisers as for political parties and the private sector. All organisations must abide by the legislation governing the processing of personal data, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003. The fundraising sector must abide by a number of separate rules owing to a specific rules put in place by government and the charity regulator. This was result of scandals that rocked fundraising in 2015 and 2016.

Political parties and politicians have often been caught by data protection law. Labour MP, David Lammy, was issued a £5,000 fine by the ICO last year for instigating 35,629 nuisance calls over two days, playing a recorded message that urged people to back his campaign to be named the Labour party candidate for London Mayor.

The ICO has produced some good guidance on interpreting the data protection legislation listed below:

Guide to Data Protection:

Guide to Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations:

Direct Marketing Guidance

If you delete a record then you don't have a record of previous actions if they start to support you again? Surely 'archiving' or opting out is better in this instance. Or is it now DP law to 'delete' when requested?

You do need to add anyone who has opted out to your in-house suppression list to ensure that they do not receive any marketing form you. Data subjects have a right to have data corrected and data that is no longer needed deleted, but this will not apply to data needed for suppression purposes. Under the GDPR, there is a similar right of erasure, which is also known as the right to be forgotten. Even when the GDPR comes into force in 2018, you do not need to comply with every request to delete data. Each case will be looked at on its own circumstances and certainly in order to prevent direct marketing, suppression of those contact details will be more appropriate.

When email opt in statements, for instance, were not collected from supporters but their emails were provided, can we assume that they have opted in our email communications?

No, if the individual was not told at the time the email address was collected that you wanted to use the address for marketing communications and offered an opt-in/out as appropriate, then you do not have consent to send email marketing

I often feel the data protection rules are deliberately vague and they don't really give clear guidelines. Just leave open many grey areas which NFPs then have to try to interpret. The recent ruling against RSPCA/BHF is one example - the ICO don't say data matching is not allowed, but the rules to make sure it complies are so difficult it practically makes it impossible to do legally.

Not for profit organisations have the same problems as other organisations in trying to interpret the Data protection rules. I would agree that there are grey areas for all organisations and this is a result of the data protection legislation being based on principles. The ICO has produced some good guidance on interpreting the data protection legislation listed below:

Guide to Data Protection:

Guide to Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations:

Direct Marketing Guidance

There is also a special page on the ICO website for charities which contains a link to the recent ICO webinar

In the British Heart Foundation and RSPCA judgements they do so that data matching which the ICO define as “ the use of personal data to obtain and use other items of personal data which data subjects may have chosen not to provide to the data controller “and tele-matching, defined as “data-matching by which telephone numbers, which data subjects may have chosen not to provide are obtained and used” are not allowed without the data subjects consent (Paras 43 onwards of the BHF civil monetary penalty notice.

Is it acceptable to continue to have opt out for PSMS TV ads?

The rules on PSMS (Premium SMS) messages are governed by Phone-Paid Services Authority and more information is available at

SMS marketing messages sent by charities always require prior subscribe/opt-in consent please see the ICO Direct Marketing Guidance for more information on this

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