Anti-spam legislation may burden non-profits, charities

As businesses wrestle with meeting new anti-spam legislation, the impact is also being felt in the non-profit sector.
New anti-spam legislation, meant to prevent people from unsolicited emails or text messages from would-be marketers, is also affecting non-profit groups. The new legislation means businesses and organization must have consent from customers before they send them anything. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

As businesses wrestle with meeting new anti-spam legislation, the impact is also being felt in the non-profit sector.

The executive director of the Ontario Nonprofit Network said there are 46,000 charities and non-profits province-wide that will be subject to new regulations.

The law requires agencies to get consent to send emails and texts to customers. Emails must also have unsubscribe features.

Kathy Taylor said the new rules — which take effect in three months — will be a burden on many.

“For sure it will make things more difficult. It is complex, it adds a level of complexity to an administrative burden for non-profits and charities and especially for the ones that have few paid staff or no paid staff.”

Taylor noted some charities will be exempt for some fundraising, but most others will have to make changes to comply.

She said the organization for which she works provides webinars that will help groups learn more about the coming legislation, and it offers more information on its website.

“We did some advocacy on this issue in the initial stages and we really hoped that the non-profit and the charitable sector would be exempt from these regulations because it was really designed for businesses in terms of their anti-spam, not for the community work that non-profits and charities do,” Taylor said.

Several non-profits in Sudbury report they haven't begun to look at the new legislation.

Top 10 things the ONN wants nonprofits to know about anti-spam legislation:

1. Legislation covers “commercial” electronic messages only. So if no transaction is involved, CASL doesn’t apply.

2. Fundraising emails from charities are exempt.

3. Other revenue-generating activities by nonprofits and charities are not exempt.

4. Legislation will be proclaimed on July 1, 2014 (but organizations will have 3 years to get permission where required).

5. Commercial electronic messages must have an unsubscribe function.

6. Commercial electronic messages must clearly identify the organization.

7. If people signed up for your newsletter directly, it’s ok to continue communicating with them.

8. You’ll need permission before you can add people to other lists (like adding program graduates to your general newsletter list).

9. Day-to-day communications are exempt, so most routine work/ activity emails to other organizations or to volunteers are ok.

10.  ONN will be hosting webinars on anti-spam in 2014 to help nonprofits understand changes and obligations.