What charities need to know about spam

Blog post - SPAM

Posted on 16 October 2017

If your charity uses email or text message marketing, it’s likely that the requirements of the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007 apply to you – have you heard of it?

The Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007 (the UEM Act) applies to all commercial electronic messages with a New Zealand link and sets out requirements for the sending of such messages.  Ultimately the UEM Act prohibits the sending of unsolicited commercial electronic messages (spam) and aims to deter people from using information and communication technologies inappropriately.

The Electronic Messaging Compliance Unit (EMCU) at the Department of Internal Affairs is responsible for enforcing the UEM Act and receives and investigates complaints from the public.

What is a commercial electronic message?

An electronic message includes any message sent by email, SMS, fax, instant messaging or similar.

A commercial electronic message is any electronic message which:

  • Markets or promotes goods and services, land, or a business / investment opportunity; or
  • Contains a link directing the recipient to a message or website promoting any of the above; or
  • Assists or enables a person to dishonestly obtain a financial advantage or gain from another person.

It is important for charities to be aware that an electronic message promoting free goods and services is still considered to be commercial in nature.

What are the requirements for sending commercial electronic messages?

There are three main requirements for sending a commercial electronic message:

  • The sender must have consent from the recipient prior to sending the message; and
  • The message must clearly and accurately identify the sender of the message; and
  • The message must contain a functional unsubscribe facility.

Additionally, address-harvesting software must not be used to send commercial electronic messages.

It is important to note that a single commercial electronic message is still subject to the above requirements, it is not necessary for there to be multiple messages sent within a particular marketing campaign.

Full details about types of consent and the other above requirements can be found on the EMCU’s website(external link).  This information is well worth a read to ensure that your charity is compliant with these requirements.

Why is this important?

Receiving spam is one of the biggest frustrations experienced by internet and mobile phone users, so sending spam can seriously damage the reputation of a business or charity.  People who have not agreed to receive your electronic marketing, or who have continued to receive messages after attempting to unsubscribe, are very unlikely to support your entity by purchasing or using your promoted goods and services.  For charities, negative word of mouth from recipients of spam could also potentially lead to a loss in donations or people willing to volunteer for your entity. 

Sending spam may also cause recipients to make complaints to the EMCU which could lead to investigation and enforcement action.

Best practice tips

If you are unsure whether your electronic marketing messages would be considered commercial in nature it is highly recommended that you seek legal advice prior to sending those messages.  However, the following best practice tips apply to all electronic messaging, not just those messages that are commercial in nature, so they should help your charity stay on the right side of the law:

  • Only send electronic messages to people who have agreed to receive them – make sure you can prove that you have their consent.
  • Create your electronic mailing list yourself and don’t share it with anyone else.
  • Make sure you have a functional unsubscribe facility – test it!
  • Process any unsubscribe requests within 5 working days.
  • If you make a mistake, let the EMCU know as soon as possible.

Using the Charities Register

One of the important parts of the Charities Register is providing contact details for registered charities, including email addresses.

You are not allowed to use the Charities Register to create a mailing list, or send unsolicited offers to charities.

You will see a statement to this effect when accessing the Charities Register search(external link) and Open Data functions

What to do if you’re receiving spam

If you or your charitable entity is receiving spam you can report to it the EMCU in the following ways:


Profile - EMCU

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