Fundraising Databases Fundraising Preference Service

Permissions, regulations and your CRM system

You can’t have helped but notice that there is a lot of noise in the sector and the wider press at the moment about permission based marketing.  There are lots of people making comments about whether new regulations, Codes of Practice and European Data laws are a good or bad thing and what they means for income, jobs and from my point of view, the most important people, our beneficiaries.

For example my wife mentioned to me in a comment recently, after attending a conference that a question was raised about “If Olive Cooke was alive today, would she have signed up for the Fundraising Preference Service” it does make you think….

So I thought that on a practical level the best thing that I could do would be to write a post about what all of this noise might mean in terms of CRM systems.

First of all, it means that if you are a charity and don’t have a CRM solution you should really think carefully about making the case for investment in a CRM tool now.  You can no longer rely on a myriad of spreadsheets on different computers throughout the organisation to manage your supporter contacts. There needs to be a central store of contact permissions that can be accessed by anyone who may send particularly a “Fundraising” or Marketing communication to any supporter.

With the emphasis increasing on the role of trustees and their strategic responsibilities for fundraising methods, they should be made aware of the benefits of having a CRM tool, if they aren’t already asking the question.

Secondly, if you have a CRM system already you should be reviewing where you are recording the very important data permissions. Ideally, it should be clear what you are recording and where in the system you are recording it. With most CRM systems, there are multiple places that you can record the opt-in and opt-outs of a supporters preferences so here’s what I would recommend.

In terms of my understanding of your current compliance requirements according to the letter of the law, Email and Telephone/SMS are specific and opt-in and Mail is opt-out.

So for example if you are using Raiser’s Edge there are two places that stand out as being areas to record this opt-in/out information.  My personal preference is to record, what I call, master turn offs (DO NOT CONTACT, DO NOT MAIL, DO NOT PHONE) as solicit codes, you should record an action as well which identifies the date of the notification of the supporters preference. You should also record what a person does want and does not want to receive as constituent attributes. eg I do want the Christmas Appeal but I don’t want Telephone Upgrades. I am interested in your life saving work but I’m not interested in your events programme.

Alternatively if you are using Access thankQ CRM there is a specific tab called contact preferences which stores the information about what supporters do want to receive vs what they don’t want and you can include a source of where you heard about it. Again I would recommend adding a communication to say that you were informed on this date in case mailings and selections have been done already and they end up being included in these due to the time pressures of mailings.

There has been some hot topics about RNLI and Cancer Research UK moving to an ALL Opt In solution and in the long term I do think that this is the right solution.  Stepping back for a minute, why would you communicate with someone who doesn’t want to listen to what you have to say, surely it’s much better to invest in communicating effectively with the people that do want to listen.

Whatever your charity’s current stance is on this you need to store your current preferences properly.

So whatever your current CRM system, start investigating where permissions are kept.  From experience it is worth having a quick check through any “Notes” type fields in the system as users sometimes just store them in there if they do not know the correct place to put them.

Another thing to look out for is joint records eg: 1 contact record with a title of Mr & Mrs or any other forms of joint record. This has implications across the work that you do and your adherence to compliance requirements for Data protection as well as gift aid.

The key to all of this is to show that you are taking care to ensure that what a supporter tells you is recorded in a way that is easily attributable to the specific individual and when it was applied.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore it. You will not get away with having not done anything or ignoring this ever changing environment. I appreciate more than most that it is not the easiest thing to understand or even plan for in terms of where it is going in the future.

Some key challenges over the coming weeks and months will be the Fundraising Preference Service (FPS), the European Data Protection Act (GDPR), the new fundraising regulator as well as the IOF Codes of Practice. Here are some external links that you might find useful:

Whilst, I’m not a legal eagle, I do have a lot of experience of best practice and regularly undertake healthchecks on data held in CRM systems so feel free to drop me a line if you think I may be able to help your organisation.


To help charities get started reviewing their data permissions (whether you have a CRM system or not) for the next couple of months we are offering our Kickstart service at half price (£500 instead of £1000).

After a day spent with your charity talking to key stakeholders and looking at your data we will provide you with a report including some actionable next steps, best practice and recommendations.

If you think this might be what you need to kickstart your review process just get in touch and mention the May Blog Offer.