Opt-in only fundraising is not as detrimental to a charity’s bottom line as had been feared, the executive director of fundraising and marketing at Cancer Research UK has said.
Ed Aspel was speaking yesterday at the Honorary Treasurers Forum Summer Symposium, where he said that the reality of embracing opt-in only fundraising is not as bad as some had previously feared. He had previously said in an interview with Fundraising magazine that Cancer Research UK will lose tens of millions of pounds as a result of its decision to move to opt-in only.
CRUK announced earlier this year that it would move to introduce an opt-in-only policy for fundraising communications.
Aspel said CRUK chose to embrace opt-in only fundraising after deciding that it was inevitable that it was coming anyway.
He clarified that he sees his role as protecting long-time income for Cancer Research, which he says is an “important perspective when you start to think about opt-in”.
CRUK worked out that instead of 60 per cent of supporters sticking with CRUK if it had continued to use an opt-out fundraising strategy, it would be around 20 per cent with opt-in. Aspel said that that sounded like a very big impact, and the initial reaction from the fundraising teams was “real panic”.
But Aspel said it was helpful to go through with the finance team and work out what the real cost would be over five to ten years. He noted: “One of the things you find out quite quickly is that if you only contact 20 per cent, not 60 per cent, your marketing costs drop dramatically.”
Although this opt-in strategy meant they were not getting so much money in, the costs had dropped, so the “the bottom line loss was nowhere near as big as everyone had anticipated”.
He said a lot of their communications were opt-in anyway.
Sector has looked at the ‘worst case’ scenario
Aspel said that he’d seen and heard a lot from the sector on what the impact of opt-in would be, but “they really are looking at the worst case, not the actual case”.
Aspel also spoke about the impact on the marketing activity of a charity using opt-in, which is “really quite dramatic”. He said that it means changing the way you engage with supporters, as you have to give them a reason to opt-in.
He said: “That is fundamental change in the way you think about supporters, and it is probably for the better.
He said it was “much more than a tick box exercise”.
CRUK has about 10 to 12 million supporters on its database, Aspel said, and it rings people once or twice a year to ask them if they would like to increase their direct debits. It will now use this as an opportunity to ask if people want to opt-in. CRUK has also found that that over the phone they have been having 40 to 50 per cent of supporters opt-in, not the 20 per cent they had anticipated.
He also said that if charities are asking their contacts to give anyway, why not ask them to opt-in, adding “you are already in contact with them, use that”.
He said: “I really struggle sometimes; where is this extra work coming from? If you have got them on your database and you think they are worth contacting, then why aren’t you contacting them? And if you are contacting them, talk about opt-in.”
He did clarify that this is the case for opt-in for CRUK and charities of a similar size, but it is not always the case for smaller charities with less well managed databases.
Stephen Dunmore, chief executive of the Fundraising Regulator – due to be launched tomorrow – was also speaking at the event. He pointed out that charities living more hand-to-mouth would struggle with the type of strategy work and scenario planning undertaken by CRUK as they wouldn’t have the resources, or “grip on donor base”.
Trust in the sector ‘damaged’
Aspel said that trust in the sector has really been damaged, and it has been damaged by the “uncoordinated activities of fundraising marketeers”. He added: “And we can’t coordinate our activities. It is quite impossible to coordinate across the hundreds of thousands of charities out there”.
He said that this is why he is in favour of the Fundraising Preference Service, as the reset button is the “only realistic way” to stop being bombarded if you are vulnerable.
“But actually the problem has been created by the sector, and it is up to the sector to put it right.”