The introduction of the General Data Protection Regulations in May 2018 was a watershed moment in charity marketing and communications.

And it has created an uncertain environment for charities, with many being concerned about the impact the GDPR will have on their ability to fundraise and to keep in contact with supporters.

GDPR is the biggest shake-up of data protection legislation since the Data Protection Act came into force in 1998. One of the biggest changes GDPR has overseen is the enforcement of strict new obligations for the retention and processing of personal data. It has changed the landscape for marketers across all sectors – including charities – and led to a more responsible approach to marketing.

The GDPR allows for six legal bases for the processing of personal data: consent, contract, legal, legitimate interest, public task and vital interest – which all have equal weighting under the regulation.

Although there has been a lot of emphasis on consent, the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) – who are the enforcement body for the UK – acknowledges, in published guidance on consent, that “the GDPR sets a high standard for consent. But you often won’t need consent. If consent is difficult, look for a different lawful basis”.

Importantly for marketers, GDPR also states in Recital 47 that direct marketing may be considered as a legitimate interest.

Legitimate interest therefore provides charities with a real opportunity to continue to communicate with the public using direct mail, if they meet the obligations specified by the GDPR and the ICO.

Legitimate interest allows organisations to contact people when they have a valid reason to do so as long as that person might reasonably expect them to.

The ICO has provided guidance that confirms that direct mail is allowed under legitimate interest, if it passes a three-part test – including a balancing test, stating that “you still need to do some work to identify your precise purpose and show that it is legitimate in the specific circumstances”.

If thoughtfully and responsibly executed and with all the obligations required under GDPR to use legitimate interest properly met – direct mail is an incredibly effective and powerful channel for response rates and engagement. It should remain an important part of charities’ fundraising efforts.

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