Proposed changes to data protection law in the European Union could have ‘potentially disastrous implications’ on fundraising, according to a report from media planning agency Medialab.


Stephen Pidgeon, a director of MediaLab and Trustee of the Institute of Fundraising in the UK, stated: “if the EU introduce compulsory ‘opt-ins’ for direct mail then the cold mailing lists that still drive minor donor fundraising will disappear and, with them, millions of pounds.”


The reformation of data protection regulation aims to give people more control over the use of their data and to ensure consistency across the EU, minimising the risk of misuse of personal data.


Likely to come into force as early as 2017, the new rules include the need to ensure explicit consent is given for the collection, storage and processing of personal data; changes to the way that organisations can segment data by personal criteria (profiling) and a consumer’s ‘right to be forgotten’. The European Commission’s proposals will be backed up by stricter enforcement, in the form of a public complaints process and the threat of hefty penalty fines for those that break the rules.


Although the current regulations vary from nation to nation, there is commonality in the main areas of concern for charity fundraising. In a briefing document prepared by the Institute of Fundraising, four key areas were identified: consent, profiling, online analytics and the right to be forgotten.


The restrictions on the use of data will impact many types of fundraising including direct mail, telephone, mobile, email, SMS and online. Even IP addresses (the unique number that identifies any device that connects to the internet) have been flagged as personal data and may therefore become off limits for processing without consent. Web analytics and profiling will become far harder, limiting the development of innovative, targeted online fundraising campaigns that recognise the cares and concerns of individual supporters.


In the throws of the European elections, the reforms were put on hold. In July 2014, Commissioner for Justice, Martine Reicherts took over from fellow Luxembourger Viviane Reding, with chief responsibility for data protection.  Parliamentary representatives are getting ready to negotiate with member states and it is their aim to agree a common position on taking forward the new regulation by the end of 2014.


“We feel it important that an appropriate balance be struck in the final version of the text between data protection requirements that protect the rights of individuals with the valid and fundamental need for charities to be able to fundraise,” says Dan Fluskey, Head of Policy and Research at the Institute of Fundraising.


The IoF’s position is that the European Commission’s proposals do not strike an appropriate balance and would have a damaging effect on fundraising in the UK.


Fluskey continued: “While the proposals have gone through the first legislative hurdle there is still a way to go, the wording and content has not yet been finalised and it is likely that some changes will be made.  At the very least, practitioners have some time to prepare and should be thinking about how such changes would influence their fundraising and what they would need to change to comply."


The Institute of Fundraising and European Fundraising Association have committed to work with MEPs and other officials to highlight the key areas of concern.


Beatrice Schell, Chief Executive of the European Fundraising Association, says: “We will be reaching out to relevant MEPs in Brussels and at a national level, aiming to engage their support in ensuring that the final legislation protects consumers but without cutting off vital fundraising channels. We are also encouraging national fundraising associations to reach out to their own MEP contacts in the same way."