Top 9 Things Nonprofits Need to Know About the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation

EDIT MAY 27, 2014: Maanit Zemel, Miller Thomson LLP, was kind enough to correct points #1, 2, 4 and 9. For more up-to-date and detailed information on CASL, check out our blog on Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation: What Charities and Not-For Profits Need to Know Before July 1, 2014.

Does your nonprofit send e-newsletters, online appeals (e.g., selling tickets to an event) and other email communications? If so, mark your calendars -- the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) will begin to take effect on July 1, 2014.

CASL is developed to help Canadian individuals, businesses and organizations deal with spam and other electronic threats. CASL limits online commercial messages and prohibits unwanted downloads of programs. All Canadian organizations must comply with the Act, including nonprofits, charities and libraries.

The Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) summarized key information about CASL and how it will affect the Canadian nonprofit sector. ONN is also hosting webinars to help nonprofits understand and comply with the Act. You can subscribe to ONN’s newsletter to get all the latest anti-spam updates and be notified of any upcoming webinars.

Top 9 Things Nonprofits Need to Know About CASL:

  1. Legislation covers commercial electronic messages (CEMs), which includes day-to-day communications.
  2. Only fundraising emails sent for the primary purpose of raising funds for the charity are exempt.
  3. Other revenue-generating activities by nonprofits and charities are not exempt.
  4. Legislation will be in force on July 1, 2014 (for commerical messages), January 15th 2015 (for computer program requirements) and July 1st 2017 is the end of the transition period.
  5. CEMs must have an unsubscribe function.
  6. CEMs 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 written or oral permission before you can add people to other lists (like adding program graduates to your general newsletter list).
  9. CEMs may only be sent if the recipient expresed or implied consent

Fundraising vs Commercial Messaging

Fundraising messages are asks that are solely for the primary purpose of raising funds for the charity. If your charity sends electronic donation appeals, (e.g., “Please donate to Haiti Disaster Relief”) these emails are exempt from CASL, as noted in the government release, “Canadian charities, which operate based on the generosity of Canadians, will be able to continue fundraising as before.” However if your charity sends a welcome/introduction email that happens to have a donate button in the email, then the email's primary purpose was not to raise funds for the charity and therefore is not exempt. 

Commercial messages are communications that involve or encourage commercial activity in exchange for goods and/or services. Many nonprofits generate their own revenue, by charging fees for products and services or participation in activities and programs (e.g., selling merchandise on a web store, tickets to a gala, membership fees). This means that any revenue-generating activities of the nonprofit sector, however small the fee, fall under the anti-spam legislation.

What are our obligations as nonprofits and charities under CASL?

Nonprofits will need written or oral consent before sending any commercial messages, or before adding people to their permanent mailing lists. As well, any commercial emails will need to include the organization’s address, telephone or email to identify the organization, and an unsubscribe option.

A great way to manage an unsubscribe feature is to use an external email marketing service, such as MailChimp or Vertical Response. If you want to learn more about email marketing services, check out TechSoup Battles: The Newsletter Challenge.

How is consent defined in CASL?

CASL defines consent as anyone who:

  • Agreed to receive commercial messages  (e.g., verbal consent at an event, signing up for the email using an online form)
  • Has an existing and active relationship (i.e., within two years of most recent contact) with the organization (e.g., previously bought event tickets, are a client, member).
  • Made an inquiry to the organization within two years (e.g., asked about the summer soccer program)

Nonprofits can send commercial communications to people who match one or all of the above criteria.

Check out the original article written by the Ontario Nonprofit Network to learn more!

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