One of the progressive strategists leading the charge against deceptive email fundraising practices thinks industry professionals are now closer to consensus on the negative effects of those tactics than ever before.
In an interview with C&E, Josh Nelson, co-founder of the Juggernaut Project and CEO of Civic Shout, said the past six months have made him hopeful “the tide is finally turning toward ethical email programs that treat supporters with respect.”
Among the developments pushing strategists in that direction: a spotlight on pre-checked recurring donation boxes in fundraising emails, public concern from credit card companies about a surge in complaints and chargebacks related to those donations, and new scrutiny on bogus donation “match” claims. Earlier this year, the Department of Justice suggested that promoting a donation “match” in a fundraising solicitation that doesn’t operate as described could be seen as “material misrepresentation.”
Federal and state lawmakers have also jumped in. There’s proposed legislation in Congress that would ban pre-checked recurring donation boxes in emails and similar legislation at the state level in California.
“So thanks, I think, in no small part to these developments, there’s a growing consensus among practitioners that these tactics are unsustainable and that we’re going to need to regulate our own behavior before somebody else does,” Nelson said.
And while the collective impact of the recent attention on these tactics has been positive, Nelson said there remains plenty of work to do for practitioners worried about poor email practice. For him and some colleagues on the left, a large part of that work is centered on pushing the biggest players in the space to root out bad actors.
Following the open letter Nelson and more than 80 other strategists sent to EveryAction in August urging the company to “play a leadership role in pushing the digital fundraising industry in more ethical and sustainable directions,” the plan is to keep up the public pressure on the platforms since “naming and shaming” individual bad actors has little impact.
“I’ve come to believe that people who are shameless cannot be shamed and that it’s going to be more effective to sort of change the rules of the game,” said Nelson. “That could mean regulators or policymakers stepping in. I think most folks in the industry don’t want to see that out of concern they could take too broad of an approach or an ineffective approach.”
In the full interview above, Nelson also weighs in on the longer-term impacts of deceptive fundraising and the challenge of bringing younger donors into the fundraising ecosystem.