A bill before the Federal Parliament is threatening to take away the special status of charities as exempt from the Do Not Call Register.
A Senate Committee is looking into a proposal by independent Senator Stirling Griff to amend the Do Not Call Register Act 2006, creating a new category for calls from charities. If adopted, the bill would jeopardise the future of the telephone as a fundraising channel.
In a submission to the committee, Fundraising Institute Australia (FIA) has warned that $600 million in tele-fundraising donations is at risk.
The telephone plays a critical role in supporting regular giving. Planned giving delivers six times more donations than spontaneous giving. Taking away the telephone would have a significant knock-on effect across all fundraising channels.
When the Do Not Call Register was created in 2006, the government of the day granted an exemption to charities because they serve a public purpose. FIA believes the policy arguments for the exemption remain as valid now as they were 14 years ago.
The exemption is aimed at ensuring that charities are appropriately able to continue to raise funds to support their work.
In a speech calling for charities to be brought under the Do Not Call scheme, Senator Griff said, “Older Australians are the prey that some charities cherish.”
In response, FIA pointed out that fundraising complaints to the Australian Communications and Media Authority represent a very small (and declining) percentage of the total. In 2017/2018, just 1.2% of complaints to the Do Not Call Register were about charity calls and in 2018/2019, the figure was only 0.8%.
FIA’s Code prohibits fundraisers from targeting vulnerable donors. In 2017 a new ‘donor care’ provision was introduced to the Code to protect vulnerable people, along with training for members, and compliance monitoring and reporting through an independent Code Authority.
As part of their contract, charities and their agencies agree to the best approach to managing calling preferences. Most agencies have their own in-house preference lists, so anyone informing them that they do not wish to receive calls is flagged accordingly.
The simple fact is that the vast majority of donors would not give if they were never asked. Charities readily acknowledge that, for some people, being asked to give can be previously supported that charity.
This is why telephone fundraising tends to be used to reactivate past donors, rather than for cold calling, or to follow up people who have given some indication by their behaviour or actions that they would be willing to consider donating to the cause.
By creating a second-tier Do Not Call Register for charity calls, the bill would create yet another layer of bureaucracy, especially burdensome for smaller charities, and draw many thousands of previously exempt charities into the register regime with all the cost and administrative burden that entails.
We believe it will be the first step towards an outright ban on charitable tele-fundraising and eliminate the possibility of ever reactivating thousands of past donors, costing the sector many millions in lost donations annually.
The changes would have the greatest impact on smaller charities that rely on telephone solicitation made possible by the Do Not Call Register charity exemption.
The cost of the register subscription is prohibitive for most medium to smaller charities, with fees ranging Fundraisers are not asking for a hand-out or a hand-up from government, only that their hands not be tied by still more regulation that would bind charities in new ways and virtually eliminate the phone as an effective communications channel.
FIA has recommended that in view of the significant reduction in complaints about charity calling due to: effective fundraising self-regulation; the continuing validity of the public interest exemption; the risk of additional compliance costs and the administrative burden, particularly for smaller charities; and loss of income to charities due to an inability to contact donors by telephone, that the Senate Committee reject the proposed amendments to the Do Not Call Register charity exemption.
The Senate Committee is expected to make its report by 17 April. No dates for hearings have yet been announced.
“In 2017/2018, just 1.2% of complaints to the Do Not Call Register were about charity calls and in 2018/2019, the figure was only 0.8%.”
Katherine is the CEO of Fundraising Institute Australia. Previously she was Director of Communications & Customer Experience at the Australian Alliance for Data Leadership and Head of Group Marketing at SBS. Katherine is also on the board of directors of Girl Guides Australia.