Prospect Research and Legitimate Interests

Something quite remarkable happened a few weeks ago. I went to a conference on GDPR (the CASE Regulation and Compliance Conference) and, by the end of the day, I was actually feeling upbeat, hopeful and – even – vaguely excited about the future of prospect research. This was not at all how I was expecting to feel after a GDPR conference, based on the countless other GDPR conferences and events that I have attended over the past 18 months which have mostly left me feeling a mixture of despondency and frustration.

So, why the sudden shift? Well, a few things. Firstly, the brilliant presentations were, for the first time, practical, focusing on what people are working on and achieving as they build towards compliancy for GDPR. To be at a GDPR event which was about positive action in regards to things like privacy notices or data analysis, and not just about all the things we can’t or mustn’t do, felt like progress.

Secondly, there was a real focus on analysing the ‘legitimate interest’ condition for processing data for prospect research. This is a huge step forwards. For too long now ‘legitimate interest’ has been viewed as a second-best option, a condition for processing that non-profits can maybe use, which is kind of OK, but probably just not quite as good or as ‘safe’ as consent. Obviously, this is due in no small part to the Regulator and ICO’s view that non-profits should probably get consent for wealth screening (by which they seem to imply most forms of prospect research). Alongside this, as Adrian Salmon’s recent blogpost highlights, one of the problems of principles’ based regulation is that, whilst it should encourage flexibility, it tends to lead to a “very conservative compliance mind-set”. So, it was great to see the all the relevant conditions for processing being analysed in an informed and practical way at the conference.

And lastly, many Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are actively choosing legitimate interests (after careful analysis) as their condition for processing data for prospect research. This is another good, positive step.

All that said…

There is still confusion and misinformation. In the past two weeks alone I have received a number of emails from researchers who are still asking if wealth screening is illegal or if they need to get consent from all their donors before doing research. I also speak to many organisations that have suspended some or all forms of prospect research whilst they try to work out their next steps. Occasionally, I speak to smaller charities who have no idea that any of this is even happening.

So, despite great advances in the HE sector and with some charities, it is clear that there is still a long way to go for prospect research before we reach May 2018, when GDPR becomes law.

The main aspect which seems to be paralysing many organisations is the question of whether to rely on consent or legitimate interests as the condition for processing for prospect research. Many researchers have been tasked with coming up with a plan for assessing this and making recommendations, which is a tall order. Much has already been written about consent (see, for example, The Fundraising Regulator’s Guidance on Consent) and we thought, therefore, that it might be useful to add some thoughts around legitimate interests, specifically in relation to prospect research.

Please click here to download our paper on this, which is a meander around the topic (you’ll be asked to subcribe to Factary Updates, so you’ll receive other reports and updates like this in the future). We hope the report is useful. Please do come back to us with any questions or comments. Also, remember that we are not data protection lawyers, so don’t make any decisions based solely on the information we provide!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *