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Leading charities commit to put donors in control of fundraising

New recommendations would mean charities would not call members of the public without clear permission.

Plus donors will always have a way to opt out of phone calls and letters under proposals published today.

New proposals published today would put donors in control of their relationships with charities.

Recommendations from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), developed with a group of leading charities, set out new standards that will let donors decide if and how they are contacted by the charities they give to.

Under the proposals, charities that buy data would only call people if they had specifically given their permission to be contacted by that named charity, not simply from agreeing to being ‘happy to receive marketing from selected third parties’. Charities that call their donors or members of the public would also regularly ask them if they are happy to be contacted in the future.

Fundraising letters should only be sent where the charity has a positive reason to believe that the potential donor has an interest in hearing from charities or that they have an interest in the particular cause. They would always have an opportunity to opt out of future mailing.

Such a move would significantly cut down on direct mail and unwanted calls and put members of the public back in control of who contacts them.

The proposals have been put forward by NCVO, which represents charities, with a group including the British Red Cross, Shelter, Oxfam, Beating Bowel Cancer, and Battersea Dogs & Cats Home (1). The group was established to look into how charities can best meet the public’s expectations of them as well as navigate the complex and changing data regulation environment. The recommendations go above and beyond the legal minimum and would ensure that charities demonstrably work to higher standards.

Research carried out for the group shows that 7 in 10 donors think the amount of contact they get from the charities they support is ‘about right’, but donors say their trust in charities would increase if they were given more control over whether and how they were contacted.

The proposals have been welcomed by the Fundraising Regulator, the new body set up to ensure fundraising is always carried out respectfully. The Regulator will now consider whether to incorporate them into its fundraising code, which charities must abide by. The code has already been strengthened significantly in recent months in order to address public concern (2).

Mike Adamson, chief executive of British Red Cross and chair of the group which developed the proposals, said:

I want people to know how seriously charities are taking this issue.

We have come up with proposals that balance the needs of charities to get in contact with supporters and potential supporters with the public’s right to have control over how they are contacted.

We heard from the public that they are most concerned about unwanted phone calls. So these proposals would mean that charities would never phone members of the public unless they had clear permission to do so.

Charities have been under pressure in recent years and they have stepped up their fundraising in response. But sometimes they have pushed too hard. It’s time to re-establish a better balance for the long term. An updated approach to consent is the foundation stone for a trusting relationship between charities and their donors.

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, said:

This is a complex area for charities. The working group have taken the time to untangle the legal and regulatory issues involved in using the public’s contact data in order to come up with guidelines that are practical and demonstrate that charities take their responsibility to work to high standards seriously.

Stephen Dunmore, chief executive of the Fundraising Regulator, said:

We welcome this report as a positive contribution that will help charities understand the requirement to secure proper consent from their donors as a key part of restoring public trust and confidence in fundraising. We will review the report and consider how we use it to prepare appropriate guidance for charities and in our development of the Code of Fundraising Practice.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said:

This is an important report which I believe will play a vital role in strengthening public confidence in our sector.

At Shelter our focus is on helping families find a place to call home and, like many charities, we are reliant on our supporters to be able to do this. By supporting these recommendations we can demonstrate to them our continued commitment to best practice at all times.

Liz Tait, director of fundraising at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, said:

Fundraising, and the way in which we manage relationships with our supporters, has to change to ensure long-lasting relationships. Battersea is reliant on the generosity of the public and is seeking consent from new and current supporters, in the way set out in this guidance, to ensure we are clear and transparent about how their data is going to be used.

Mark Flannagan, chief executive of Beating Bowel Cancer, said:

It’s vital charities demonstrate to their donors that they are operating to the best possible practice. These principles are an important step in that direction, and I hope colleagues across the sector will them pick up enthusiastically.

Tim Hunter, director of fundraising at Oxfam, said:

It’s crucial we build a relationship of trust with our donors so they will continue to support Oxfam’s work supporting some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Already this year we have significantly enhanced how we carry out fundraising to ensure that it is always done respectfully. We have supported the new regulatory system, given fundraising priority at board level, and we are constantly looking for ways to strengthen our relationships with donors. I believe these new recommendations can help all charities nurture the trust from their donors that will be crucial for their work in the long term.

For further information please contact the NCVO press office:

Aidan Warner: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / 020 7520 2413 / 07980 934 277 or Chloe Stables: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / 07507 558 597

You can now download a copy of the report (pdf, 365KB).


(1) The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) established a working group of charities to examine how charities can best meet the complex and overlapping requirements of data protection and fundraising laws and regulations, along with proposed enhancements to data protection laws under the forthcoming European General Data Protection Regulation.

The working party of senior charity staff along with data protection experts, chaired by the chief executive of British Red Cross, Mike Adamson, has also consulted with a reference group of around fifty other charities. NCVO has acted as secretariat to the group.

(2) Among other changes, new rules mean that letters and other fundraising communications have a clear message explaining how to stop receiving further communications and that there are minimum font sizes for opt-in/opt-out statements in all printed fundraising communications. The updated code also means that charities won’t sell supporters’ data for commercial gain.

In addition, the new Fundraising Regulator is developing a new Fundraising Preference Service, which will allow members of the public who feel they or a vulnerable relative receive an unmanageable amount of fundraising requests to have a one-stop solution to opt out of them.

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