Jumping on the charity bashing gravy train.

Returned from holiday to a mountain of mail. Usually this is good fun but recently it’s turned into a nightmare of more and more charity mailings. First off today was British Heart Foundation. A good cause and I walk voluntarily into their charity shops regularly to find bargains and do my bit. But because of recent publicity about charity mailings I took a hard line. I rang them up and asked to be taken off their mailing list. The operator was polite and efficient. She asked for the code next to my address beginning 52A so she could add me to their suppression list but when I quoted it she said I wasn’t actually on their mailing list. Strange – I am looking at a letter addressed to me at my address asking for money from BHF.

She was quick to explain however that it was a one off mailing using data supplied by a 3rd party so they didn’t actually process my name and address. They just used it. I trotted out the well worn definition of processing that all BCS certificate holders know and she did admit that it looked as if they were processing after all. I asked who was the 3rd party and it turned out to be Senior Rail Card.


(as an aside these are managed by ATOC Ltd which manages the contract for the issue and use of the Senior Railcard on behalf of the Train Companies. Reference to a ‘Train Company’ or the ‘Train Companies’ means those Train Companies which, pursuant to a franchise agreement, operate Passenger Railway Services in Great Britain. Their website has a cookie policy but no privacy policy. Nowhere on their website do they assure you that they will only use your personal data to supply you with a senior railcard. Nowhere do they inform you that they will pass it on to anyone else.)

To be honest it wasn’t Senior Rail card who gave my details to BHF it was Media Lab group; BHF told me at the same time they told me about Senior Rail card.


Media Lab has a website where it says

“The media landscape may have changed, but the need for data hasn’t. That’s why at Medialab, we live and breathe data. It’s at the centre of everything we do. Our data-driven approach allows us to develop successful multi-channel media plans that are built on econometric analysis, innovation and a passion for our clients’ results. As a leading integrated direct response agency, we plan campaigns for the UK’s leading brands including National Trust, Post Office and Macmillan.”

Bizarrely for a data driven company they don’t have a privacy policy either. They were the company that gave my data to BHF. They got it from ATOC. I’m not sure how the transfer of data was made or whether money changed hands. We just don’t know. But I thought when I bought my senior rail card that my personal data would only be used or me to get cheap rail fares not donate to Heart charities or end up in the hands of List brokers.

The efficient BHF operator said she couldn’t delete me from their mailing list as I wasn’t actually on it. The list really belonged to Media Lab Group. They only used it to mail me. (Did someone at the back say Data Processor agreement and breach of Principle 7?).

However she had a solution to my predicament. She would add me to their database and immediately add me to their suppression list. Brilliant.

Next Alzheimers. Not as we first thought the Alzheimers Society (See comments) but another organisation working in this sector.

They also asked for money (or any donation will do) and they did have a privacy policy and also an undertaking issued by the ICO. They also gave me my Supporter reference number which was why they were contacting me. Because a year ago I filled in an online quiz to see if I was presenting any of the symptoms of dementia. At no time before, during or after the quiz did they give me any indication they would tap me up for money nor I asked if I wanted to become a supporter of theirs.

I rang them up to ask them to remove me from their mailing list but not a lot happened. When I say not a lot there was a recorded message saying “we apologise for the delay” then there was silence for the next 10 minutes at which point I gave up. They could have whistled a tune or even played a song but nothing. It was as if they  had forgotten to answer or they were hoping (like Doc Martin) that I had no patience.

They were right so I used the system they provided to communicate with them.  This time they supplied an SAE and a form where I could inform them of my preferences so I did. They’d used a jocular style to contact me without my consent so I replied in the same vein.


Only 20 more charity letters to deal with… How I hate coming home from holidays.

The Act Now Data Protection Practitioner Certificate is a qualification designed to give candidates a head start in understanding and implementing the proposed EU Data Protection Regulation.

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One thought on “Jumping on the charity bashing gravy train.”

  1. Hello. I’m Martin Sheehan, Head of Customer Service at Alzheimer’s Society. The points that you make concern all of us in the charity sector, and where there are improvements to be made in process and practice we must act to develop relationships that clearly work for our supporters and the beneficiaries of our work. The particular mailing piece shown in this blog doesn’t in fact seem to have come from Alzheimer’s Society (which is potentially worrying if we are being impersonated) but, as the topic suggests, the sector has to recognise and eliminate poor practice, so I would welcome being part of the solution by accepting feedback about the Society and also the sector in general which I will pass on to peers in other organisations. I can be contacted at martin.sheehan@alzheimers.org.uk. Thank you for an insightful blog and I look forward to continuing a conversation about the issues raised.

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