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‘Good Asking’ V Data Protection

‘Good Asking’ v Data Protection

The IOF has released its latest report entitled ‘Good Asking’. The report was undertaken by leading academic, Dr Beth Breeze and surveyed over 300 fundraisers to understand why they process and research information about their supporters and what the benefits are for donors, charities and the wider public.

The report comes shortly after the announcement that a further 11 charities have been fined by the ICO for data breaches of data protection law, such as wealth screening of their supporters, as well as tracing and targeting lapsed donors by collecting personal information from other sources.

The recent ICO announcements have no doubt cast a shadow over the fundraising community, for whom such practices have been widespread in the sector and been accepted as common-place practice as part of a professional fundraising approach in soliciting funds from prospective donors.

However the ICO certainly seems to be putting a different spin on these practices, using phrases such as “targeting for additional funds” and even going as far to say in their December statement when the RSPCA and BHF fines were announced that, “Millions of people who give their time and money to benefit good causes will be saddened to learn that their generosity wasn’t enough. And they will be upset to discover that charities abused their trust to target them for even more money.”

These sentiments have been further dramatised by sections of the media who have referred to the practices as “snooping” and “targeting donors for extra cash”.

The IOF ‘Good Asking ‘ report counters these assertions made by the ICO and media, shedding light on why exactly fundraisers research donors through methods such as wealth screening. Its key findings from the research highlight the following:

  • Research stops a great deal of communication being sent out, thereby minimising waste and avoiding causing offence or upset to people on the receiving end. As one fundraiser interviewed for the report says, “I have found that my research has often been about removing people from the frame so that we can prioritise those people who are genuinely likely to be interested in making a large donation.”
  • Research enables charities to tailor their approach to match donors’ philanthropic goals: this is cost-effective and more likely to result in positive outcomes for all involved.
  • Research results in a better experience for donors and supporters because they receive more appropriate communications, understand how their contributions are spent, and have a more enjoyable donor experience.
  • Research enables more effective fundraising helping charities to raise more, money (and gain access to non-monetary) resources , by helping them to build more sustainable and positive relationships.
  • Restrictions on research would lead to increased costs for charities, inappropriate approaches to potential donors, less income available to spend on beneficiaries and a reduction in an already small talent pool of fundraisers.

It is off course important to ensure that donor details entrusted with charities is handled correctly and sensitively in accordance with data protection law. Interestingly the IOF’s report highlights that research plays a fundamental role in avoiding ‘pestering’ people for ask that are of no interest to them and helps charities use their (often limited) resources effectively. Charities who conduct good research ensure that they:

  • Approach donors who are most likely to have an interest in the organisation’s work;
  • Approach donors who are most likely to have the capacity to donate to the project;
  • Communicate with donors in the most relevant and appropriate way. Those familiar with major donor fundraising would agree that there is an expectation particularly from busy, wealthy individuals that a charity has done its homework to ensure that both the level of gift and project is a good fit with their philanthropic goals and interests.

There is a deep concern that harsh restrictions placed on fundraisers with regards to enabling them to conduct professional and sensitive research will leave fundraisers only with the option to conduct ‘blanket asks’ and hope they reach the right people with the right message. This is clearly not a sensible use of charity resource and also risks annoying donors as well as being a set-back for the fundraising profession, which has developed such strategic functions over the years in order to enhance a donor’s giving experiences.

What is most concerning is that this is likely to hit the smaller charities the most, who have limited contacts in order to leverage donations from individuals and very limited resource to do general ‘blanket mailings’. Many small organisations, whilst may not invest in companies to conduct wealth screening of their donors, may well resort to public information from the internet in order to build a profile of their donors, so that they can focus their precious resource towards activities that will have a transformational impact on their fundraising.


It is clear that research has been and remains a fundamental practice for charities and fundraisers will have to be compelling and clear on how they convey the benefits of research to donors as well as the wider public. The IOF’s report contains some strong and positive statistics, which highlight the importance of good research, which in turn helps fundraisers to make good asks.

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