By now, you have probably heard that Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) comes into effect on July 1, 2014. There has been a lot of confusion about what it means and how to be compliant. Some people are afraid to send out any more e-newsletters for fear of breaking the law. For businesses and nonprofits who have always engaged in permission-based marketing, it’s really not that bad.

Remember, the purpose of the legislation is to prevent spam, not kill business. Canada is the last G7 nation to adopt an anti-spam law according to the Toronto Star. It’s about time, Canada has a bad reputation for sending out spam. Legislation aside, do you want to be known as a spammer?

The nerd that I am, I sat down and read not only the government’s CASL FAQ, but the legislation and the regulations too, to try and get the story straight. This is what I learned.

Fact #1: The law relates to promotional emails (in government-speak, a “commercial electronic message” or CEM), that is an email where its purpose is to encourage participation in a commercial activity. It does not include informational articles nor business correspondence where a business relationship already exists.

Fact #2: The law says the sender of an email MUST do three things to comply:

  • identify themselves and include contact information, including their physical mailing address, in emails
  • have explicitly received the recipient’s permission to receive their promotional emails (opt-in)
  • include an unsubscribe process to opt-out

Fact #3: You CANNOT:

  • collect email addresses from websites to build your list
  • buy or rent a list—don’t even go there. That’s true spamming in my books
  • have an opt-in option on a form with the default set to “Yes”

So who can you send to?

  • Current customers and prospects. The legislation defines “current” as someone you have done business with in the past two years or who has made an inquiry or request for quote in the last 6 months.
  • People who specifically opted-in. You can get permission verbally or in writing, including a sign up form on your website

Fact #4: You do not have to have opt-in permission from everyone on your list by July 1, 2014, or else. The legislation assumes for the next 36 months (3 years) that you have opt-in permission for your existing contacts where a business relationship exists. That means you have until July 1, 2017 to get them to opt-in. But you do have to eventually get everyone’s permission. You must have opt-in permission for anyone added to your list as of July 1, 2014.

Fact #5: The onus is on you, the sender, to prove the recipient opted-in. That means you should probably document when and how the person opted in. Using an email marketing service does a lot of the record-keeping for you. (Disclosure: I sell email marketing services)

Fact #6: While the law applies to nonprofits, registered charities have an exemption if the primary purpose of the email is to raise funds for the charity.The Canadian charity network Imagine Canada (no relation to us) has an excellent FAQ about charities and CASL.

Fact #7: If someone gives you their business card, you can add them to the list with implied permission if you a) only send messages that are related to their role or duties in an official or business capacity; and b) they have not specifically told you they do not want to receive your emails. If you put out a fish bowl for a business card “draw” then add everyone to your distribution list, that may be iffy. Be safe—and courteous—and include a sign that says dropping your card in also means you opt-in.

Just be nice

Asking permission is actually a better way to show someone you care about the relationship right from the beginning. If you don’t, you run the risk of alienating them. Case in point: Once, at a networking event, I exchanged cards with another attendee. I asked if I could add them to my mailing list, but they declined. Fair enough. However, I soon learned they went ahead and added me to their list—without asking permission. Poor form. I will never do business with that person. Ever.

Breathe out, relax.

If you got someone’s express permission when they were added to your list in the first place, you should be good. If you’ve been doing that all along or they are a current customer/supporter, then it doesn’t look like you have anything to worry about. There is nothing in the legislation that says you must now renew that permission—unless, of course, the relationship has changed since they were added. Evaluating every contact in your database can be cumbersome, so it wouldn’t hurt to ask your contacts to re-confirm their wishes to be on the safe side. Besides, I’m not a lawyer.

But I’ll loose a bunch of my subscribers!

Yes, you probably will. But it may not be a bad thing. If you have a lot of people on your distribution list without permission, they probably aren’t good customers (or supporters) anyway. You could, in fact, be saving money by sending to a smaller, better quality list. And those still on the list will be truly interested in you. Sounds like a win!

Do you have more questions? Join the conversation and leave your question.