Anti-spam spam

by Jini Stolk

Like you, I’ve been overwhelmed by an onslaught of anti-spam compliance emails over the past few weeks. I’ve heard from companies whose messages I’ve been receiving, in some cases for the last twenty years, and with whom I have an established and very happy artistic and commercial relationship. I’ve heard from organizations who provide good, useful professional content which I want to continue to receive. I’ve heard from companies whose emails have been of marginal interest, but with whom I want to stay in touch for a variety of personal and professional reasons. I’ve heard from organizations whose messages I barely remember receiving, but whose occasional updates I think I might find interesting. I’m distressed by the amount of time, energy and fear behind our community’s response to this badly-designed and ambiguous legislation, which was put in place prior to any consultation with the nonprofit or charitable communities. The Ontario Nonprofit Network responded immediately and firmly once we understood the potential negative impact of Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) on the nonprofit community’s relationships to its supporters – and especially on arts organizations which rely heavily on earned income through ticket sales. We argued that “the…legislation has…inadvertently caught our sector’s community-building activities in the legislation and regulations, which will have serious repercussions for the sector and… (may)… discourage and constrain how Canadians engage in their communities.” One of the probable negative results we identified is certainly rolling out as we speak: that our communications lists, built with great effort over many years, could be devastated by people’s lack of an active decision to “opt (back) in” – or by a rash of hasty “unsubscribe” decisions which even I’ve had to steel myself against given the crazy flood of messages and the universal human desire to reduce our daily inboxes.

THE GOOD NEWS: The arguments we and others put forward resulted in important changes to the regulations, which are well summarized on ONN’s website, on Imagine Canada’s website, and by charity legal experts Miller Thomson (check out this great link by them as well) and McMillan. These should keep panic at bay, and reassure you that you do not have to delete existing names from your mailing list if they have not actively re-subscribed as of July 1:

  • fundraising messages by charities, and other activities beyond the usual CRA definition of fundraising including “organizations, such as arts groups and cultural institutions, promoting ticket sales for upcoming events,” are exempt under the legislation.
  • if commercial activities are undertaken to carry out a charity’s mission, and the funds go directly to the charity to support its work, then it likely falls under the exemption.
  • messages from registered charities offering services which may benefit individuals, where there is a cost-recovery element (for materials, for example) are exempt.
  • We understand that charities’ existing lists might be considered as having express consent as long as the organizations have a working unsubscribe option in their communications.
  • the legislation allows three years to fully comply; anyone who has previously signed up to receive your emails does not need to sign up again, but in framing future communications you should encourage everyone to actively opt-in – especially if you’ve built your mailing list through a variety of methods (like collecting business cards) which didn’t explicitly explain that ongoing email communications would follow.
  • you must include a noticeable unsubscribe function in all e-messages, now and in future.
  • you will need to obtain express consent from now on as you grow your communications lists.

No doubt we would all like to receive less spam, but I haven’t received one single message from anyone who is actually spamming my inbox and I don’t expect to. Adding the SPAMfighter program to my computer has done a nice job of cutting down on the spam I used to receive. I was going to end this post by comparing and contrasting the several hundred messages I’ve received in the past few weeks to identify “best practices” in CASL messages, but I don’t actually have the heart to criticize anyone who’s been trying to comply with this difficult to understand legislation. I will simply say: make things as easy as possible for people to sign up, donate, or otherwise show support for your wonderful organization. One click good. Four clicks and a page of information capture bad. I will instead end by saying that I am deeply grateful to those of you who continue to receive and read my messages, which have no commercial purpose but which aim to involve the community I love in an ongoing discussion of how best to sustain and grow our organizations, our art, and our audiences. If you ever wish not to hear from me again, please do unsubscribe by clicking the link at the bottom of each of my newsletters and understand that I have valued and appreciated the time and interest you’ve shared with me over the years.

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