GDPR could kill Christian organisations – so is it OK to just ignore those emails?

Getting yourself removed from certain mailing lists often feels like getting red wine out of a white carpet. You think you've unsubscribed, but somehow the emails keep coming, joining those from all the other promotional lists you found yourself on after entering a price draw or signing a petition. Purging your spam emails has become one of the low-level irritant chores of modern life; the sort of annoyance that never quite drives you to action. Except now, those days are over.

GDPR – coming off all those mailing lists is tempting.Juliette Leufke/Unsplash

The great GDPR revolution has well and truly arrived, and is currently causing major headaches in practically every organisation that ever built a mailing list. In a few days time, when the first compliance deadline passes, those headaches will turn into something much bleaker as executives survey the smouldering remnants of their once-proud lists. Forecasts will nosedive, people will certainly lose their jobs, and all due to a change in data protection law.

Because right now, on smartphones and laptops across the land, people like you and I are gleefully deleting increasingly desperate requests from those organisations to 'please stay in touch!' That pizza company that sends you annoying text messages; the Christian charity which hooked you in on a moral campaign and now asks for money every week; the newspaper you occasionally read to make you feel a bit smarter. They're all getting the same response: delete, delete, delete. GDPR plays to our apathy; we don't even need to opt out any more. Now we have to opt in, and many of us are seeing it as a welcome gift, a great big reset button on our crowded inboxes.

The trouble with GDPR though is that, like Thanos, it kills indiscriminately. The habit of ignoring these requests becomes so passively addictive that we're struggling to say 'yes' to anyone. So while the discount curtain company which keeps emailing me will have to stop or face the wrath of the regulators, so will the various Christian ministries to which I haven't yet replied.

This is a problem because for most Christian organisations and other charities, a strong mailing list is vital. In an age of mass communication, being able to directly reach your supporters and sympathisers is incredibly important, and in many cases the backbone of an entire communications and fundraising strategy. Some estimates suggest that certain organisations could be left having to destroy 80 per cent of their data. Carefully-cultivated mailing lists grown at great expense over many years will lie in utter ruins. One might invoke the parable of the wise and foolish builders at this point, but in truth, few people saw this coming.

Ultimately our response to those GDPR emails reveals how committed we are to the senders. Most of us will have leapt to reply to at least a couple of those that we're actually invested in and enjoyed deleting a few more. The problem is the grey area in the middle: the mailing lists we signed up to because of some level of interest, but which now become another barrier to the tantalising prospect of Inbox Zero. It's worth remembering though that if we do so, we'll be contributing in some small but significant way to the demise of organisations that we'd rather were still around.

Perhaps the challenge is to not allow apathy to override thought-through decision making. GDPR presents us with a great opportunity to consider whose mailing lists we really want to be on, and whose communications we're actually interested in hearing. Just allowing our subscriptions to expire through inaction, however, is somewhat disrespectful to the people who work hard to make charitable organisations tick over on limited budgets.

I'm not suggesting we have to keep receiving unwanted spam from charities that we're not really interested in, but to use GDPR as an excuse just to ignore their slow death is a rather passive-aggressive way to kill them off.

Martin Saunders is a contributing editor for Christian Today and the deputy CEO of Youthscape. Follow him on Twitter @martinsaunders.