Social profits & Canada’s new anti-spam law

Canada’s new anti-spam law (CASL) takes effect on July 1. I’m here to tell you: Don’t panic. If you’re following generally accepted best practices for e-marketing, you’re fine for July 1.

But if you’re like me you’ve been asked to confirm your interest in receiving more than one e-newsletter because of the new rules. That got me wondering so I took a closer look to see what I may have missed earlier. I confirmed that there’s no need to rush to confirm people’s subscriptions before July. There’s a three year transition period to do so.

New spam law only applies to sales e-mails

Canada’s new spam law only applies to e-mail that includes content to sell people something i.e commercial. That includes things such as a membership to your hiking club or branded clothing (except for performing arts or cultural institutions, where the proceeds flow directly to the charity)

If your e-mail is purely informational, the new law does not apply to you. Nor as shared by the Carter law firm that specializes in Canadian charity law, does the spam law “‘apply to a commercial electronic message (“CEM”) “that is sent by or on behalf of a registered charity … and the message has as its primary purpose raising funds for the charity’ (emphasis added).” But in both of these cases I still advise to use an e-marketing service.

Do you already have express consent?

Best practice is that you only send e-newsletters to people who have given you their consent. The best method of consent is if someone signed themselves up for your e-newsletter list. They are then expressly consenting for you to be in touch with them through e-marketing.

If you’re list is entirely or nearly all from self-subscriptions, you’re in great shape since there’s no need to get them to re-subscribe.

Once someone gives you express consent, you can continue to send them e-marketing materials until they unsubscribe.

Implied consent is time-limited

Best practice has also been that you can add people to your e-marketing list if they have a prior or existing relationship with your organization. For example, if a parent gave you an e-mail address when signing a child up for camp.

Doing so is still OK but there’s a big condition attached. You can only keep those names on your list for a maximum of 2 years.

That starts to pose some administration challenges so I expect many organizations shall move away from automatically adding people with implied consent to their e-marketing lists.

If your e-news list has been built this way or even has a substantial minority of addresses added due to implied consent, you’re wise to ask people to confirm their subscription. But that is not required before July 1, 2014. Some organizations may prefer to play it on the safe side and take this approach if any of their names have been added this way or you’re unsure where the addresses came from. Keep in mind that you can take up to three years to do so.

Use an e-newsletter service

There’s a critical piece of advice that I haven’t seen in any of the material that I have read on Canada’s new spam law: Use an e-newsletter service.

Social profits that use an e-newsletter service are in the best shape for the new rules and moving into the future. These services makes it easy for people to subscribe/unsubscribe and change their e-mail address or preferences–and with no work involved by your organization!

If you are building and maintaining your own lists using spreadsheets and a program like Outlook, you’re much more likely to run into trouble. Chances are it’ll be difficult to prove you have express consent or to manage implied consent. You also risk having your domain being identified as sending spam resulting in any e-mail sent from it getting caught by spam filters.

So if an e-newsletter is part of digital media toolkit, be sure to be using an e-marketing service.

Some such as MailChimp are free if your list is small. Or you may prefer a paid service such as Constant Contact or AWeber if you have a more sophisticated approach to e-marketing and/or desire their features.

Build your list with express consent

Another key piece of advice that I’m not seeing explicitly shared it this: Moving forward build your list with express consent.

There’s two approaches to taking this approach:

  • Have everyone sign up through an online form available on your website. You can also be more proactive and encourage people to visit and use the form when you contact them with other communications materials.
  • Continue adding people with implied consent but send them a message asking them to confirm their interest in receiving your e-marketing materials. Doing so gives you the preferred option of having express consen

A service such as AWeber can automatically send a message requesting express consent. If your online e-marketing service doesn’t have that feature, you could effectively do the same thing by sending people with implied consent an e-mail requesting them to subscribe (with a link to do so of course!) but without permanently adding them to your list. You’ll want to be able to remove them after that invitation message. Details on how to do this depends upon the tools you use.

Where you can learn more:

If you’re looking to learn more about Canada’s new spam law and ensure you are compliant, here are some great resources:

Including a couple a Canadian law firms: