Today I received an interesting email appeal from the campaigning organisation 38 Degrees* asking me to contribute to help them fund the costs of their GDPR-readiness efforts. The email was written by the member of staff responsible for getting the organisation GDPR-ready. Anyone responsible for this in their own organisation will immediately feel her pain!
She began her message reassuring her readers that the legislation is important and will ultimately protect consumers. Then she described the amount of work - and crucially cost - that will be required to get her organisation GDPR-compliant. She described the colour-coded lists, spreadsheets, and to-do lists she's created to project manage the work. And she talked about the need to purchase new tech and to get high-quality legal advice.
All of this is really important work that is vital to ensuring that organisations can keep up with regulations and ensure they give their customers a good experience. But it's not the kind of thing that most people think donors will want to fund. Donors expect organisations to uphold basic standards of compliance - it's a hygiene factor, something that is expected but for which you don't get any additional "credit".
The amounts they asked for in their email were tiny (£1, £2, £3), so tiny in fact that I wondered whether the primary purpose of the appeal was actually to refresh my consent to be contacted by email, while also perhaps offering a bit of insight into what it's like to run the organisation. It was this latter objective that got me thinking: with all the focus on transparency in the charity sector, I don't think we've been particularly good at helping people understand what goes into running the organisation - and how those costs are increasing.
We know that there is a often a gap between the public's perception of charities and the reality of how a modern charity is run. And there are lots of pockets of work underway to help close this gap. But while that gap persists, it can feel risky to talk honestly about costs, costs that are unfortunately moving in one direction. Across the sector, the costs of generating income have risen over twice as quickly as we've grown income over the last decade, according to the NCVO Civil Society Almanac. Those figures were based on the published accounts of charities up to the period ending 14/15, so some of the more recent cost pressures (including GDPR, which is not strictly a fundraising cost as it has implications across an organisation) haven't even been factored in.
So what do you think: do you think it's brave - or foolish - to follow the lead of an organisation like 38 Degrees and explicitly talk to your donors about the costs of doing business? Do you think this is an area supporters should - and do - want to hear more about? I'd love to hear your thoughts below.
* 38 Degrees is not a charity, but in many ways, it runs itself like one, relying on public donations for support. From what I have seen through their website and accounts, I think they have an above-average commitment to transparency. For instance, they prominently publish their donation policy, they publish details of any donor who gives more than £7,500, and they give more information about commercially sensitive areas like the number and average value of the donations they receive and their compensation policy than they are required to. And in gratitude for inspiring me to challenge my thinking around transparency, I donated to their appeal.