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July 1st, the Canadian government instituted an anti-spam law to regulate electronic messaging by brands, businesses, and causes. The intention of the law is to create a Canada where everyone knows what emails they receive contain, who sent it, and why they’re getting them. While the intent behind the law might be good, it has also created several important challenges and questions for nonprofit organizations based and working in Canada.

With all of the questions surrounding the anti-spam law (and some of the exemptions it has in place for nonprofit organizations), we wanted to highlight the most important things a nonprofit leader should know about the changes:

Top 5 Things Nonprofit Leaders Should Know About CASL

If you lead a nonprofit organization based in Canada or you have clients or donors who reside there, here are the five most important things to know about CASL:

1. Legislation covers “commercial” electronic messages only.

The regulations and penalties only apply to emails that prompt some sort of transaction (e.g. – selling merchandise on a web store, membership fees, etc.). If no transaction is involved, CASL doesn’t apply.

2. Messages that are solely for the primary purpose of raising funds are exempt  

This is good news for nonprofits. While CASL applies to emails about specific products or services your organization offers to generate revenue, it doesn’t apply to electronic donation appeals. That means that newsletters asking for donations and purely informational items are exempt if they do not contain commercial material.

However, some stewardship emails that include a fundraising aspect are not exempt. For example, if you send a welcome or introduction email that’s primary purpose is something other than fundraising, you must have received opt-in permission to communicate with them.

3. Your organization must receive permission from the recipient before adding them to another list.

If people sign up for your newsletter directly, it’s ok to continue communicating with them. However, you will need their consent before moving them over to another list that might include commercial appeals. For example – universities will need permission from graduating students to move them over to their alumni list.

4. Your nonprofit will need to provide certain information in every commercial appeal 

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 

5. You have time to make the necessary changes

The most important thing you should know is that you shouldn’t panic. While legislation went into place on July 1, 2014 organizations will have 3 years to get permission that meet the new requirement.

Disclaimer: Please do not take this as legal counsel. We are not attorneys. We encourage you to speak with an attorney around legal matters. For more information about the Canadian Anti-Spam Law, here are other resources you might find valuable:

 What is your organization doing now to comply with CASL? What has been the biggest challenge while making the necessary changes?