Charities must take care with not only advertising in paid for space and sales promotions but also on websites, other digital sites, Apps and social networking sites. The remit of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was extended in 2011 to cover statements organisations make on websites they control including microsites and social media sites including Facebook and Twitter. This applies to advertising or marketing communications that consist of direct solicitations of donations as part of fundraising.

The general principles of the CAP Codes, published by the Committee for Advertising Practice that govern the advertising industry, therefore apply. This includes that advertising should be legal, decent, honest and truthful and should be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and society. Care must therefore be taken that online marketing will not mislead or offend.

It should be noted that the ASA will only be concerned with marketing which is soliciting donations and online fundraising sites will therefore fall under the ASA’s scrutiny. If the marketing is simply promoting causes or ideas then the ASA will not have any concerns but if there is a donation button or a link to making a donation alongside this then will fall under the ASA’s remit.

If the charity falls foul of the requirements then the ASA will have extended sanctions in relation to such a breach. For charities in particular the possible reputational harm is a key risk as it could change consumer perception of that charity and lead to reduced donations. The ASA publishes its adjudications weekly and these are often reported in the national press. The organisation could also be named and shamed on the ASA’s website and if, for example, a Google search was made for the charity’s name one of the top search results would be the link to the ASA page showing the non-compliance. Non-compliant charities could also see their paid-for search advertising removed and the ASA could place advertisements online highlighting an advertiser's continued non-compliance.

Other issues to consider with online marketing are:

  • Guidance by the ASA in June 2013 stressed that an organisation is responsible for any user generated content, for example if you are positively inviting a conversation then you must monitor responses on pages you control as this could form part of your advertising.
  • Make it easy for a consumer to judge whether or not what they are seeing is an advert, for example  celebrities are promoting the organisation by comments on
  • Twitter it must be clear that it is an advert.
  • Make sure that any online content is directed appropriately, this is especially important in protecting children, so for example are all images used appropriate for anyone who may see it, including children?
  •  It is therefore extremely important that charities and the third sector ensure that they have internal controls in place to govern what is placed on websites or social media within its control. A charity must apply the same diligence to online marketing as it does to its other marketing offerings.