Under starters' orders: will fundraising events flourish in a post-GDPR world?

As supporter databases diminish due to changes required by the GDPR, charities may have to utilise fundraising events for engagement and donations.
Aisling Buckley

Having previously worked in community fundraising, one challenge for fundraising events stood out for me. Traditional institutions like churches or neighbourhoods, which previously connected individuals, are becoming less prominent in people’s lives. As discussed in a recent post on memberships, the proportion of paid memberships and associations with other networks (such as local places of worship) have decreased over a long-term period.

This has had consequences on community fundraising, which largely depends on volunteers to fundraise among people they know; but when it becomes much more difficult for charities to contact individuals with the implementation of the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May 2018, volunteers and fundraisers will be able to ask for their friend’s support when the charity can’t.

When we asked the public what contact they would opt-in to receive once the new data protection rules comes into force, very few were willing to get requests to donate to future fundraising appeals[1]. The majority, however, said they were happy to receive information about events or other opportunities to get involved such as volunteering. In a time of both a decline in traditional networks and the need for alternative methods to communicate with potential supporters, which kinds of fundraising events will be most effective?

Supporting a charity and supporting the cause are undoubtedly vital motivations to participate in an event. Personal relationships have always been important for choosing to take part in a fundraising event, but personal contacts are becoming increasingly influential. One fifth of recent event participants stated that they joined in because their employer was involved in the event. I will only make an individual donation to a cause I care about, but more than once I have sponsored a friend who is running for an organisation I would otherwise never consider giving to.

Some organisations are holding innovative events which encourage participants to invite people they know to take part, while also highlighting their cause. The Royal London Society for Blind Children (RSBC) holds a blindfolded 10k run where you compete in pairs with one person blindfolded. Some disability charities have got involved with Parallel London, a fully inclusive run/push/walk fundraising event, which encourages people who need support completing the event to bring a friend to accompany, guide or push them.

While tea parties are not a ground-breaking concept, Rethink Mental Illness promotes chats about mental health with a cup of tea. Cystic Fibrosis Trust, which supports people with the health condition of which the symptoms tend to start during childhood, holds a family fundraising walk.

Interestingly, our research with families found that parents are more likely to engage with charities when they hear about them through their child’s school. As churchgoing and other religious participation have been decreasing, schools and the workplace are invaluable networks to promote fundraising opportunities to potential supporters.

Contact databases will inevitably shrink with the implementation of GDPR and charities will simply not be able to directly contact as many people as they can now. Community fundraising is already an effective way for charities to promote their work and raise money. Volunteers who dedicate their time to fundraising events will be vital bridges between charities and potential supporters. By holding events that are shared experiences which also highlight the cause, the most committed supporters can enable charities to reach a wider audience. In the post-GDPR world, fundraising events may become even more important in letting charities reach new audiences and donors.

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[1] nfpSynergy GDPR Focus Groups, 22 participants, May 2017


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