Ending the non-profit chill from Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation

It’s been almost two years since Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation – known as CASL – came into effect. Most of us probably remember the flurry of emails we got in the spring of 2014 urging us to stay on organizations’ mailing lists – that was the new law in action.

Two years in, it’s unclear whether CASL has actually been effective at reducing spam in Canada. But the new law has created an email “chill” for many non-profit organizations – limiting their digital activities for fear of breaking the rules. CASL is still not well understood, and many organizations are unaware of, or under-informed about, the rules resulting in an overly cautious approach that can negatively impact fundraising and member engagement.

To mark the law’s upcoming 2-year anniversary, here’s a quick non-profit-focused refresher on CASL and bulk email.

1.     Working under CASL is pretty simple.

Compliance is pretty simple. For email blasts, you just need to follow three simple rules:

a.     Each email needs an unsubscribe link that’s instant.

Easy. Major mailers like MailChimp, Blue State Digital and NationBuilder all have this requirement built in.

b.     Every email must identify the sender.

Just add your organization’s name, address and phone number, email address or web address in the footer of your default email template in small type – that way you won’t forget. Again – most mailers already require this.

c.      You need the recipient’s consent.

The good news is that if the recipient gave you their email address through an online form like a petition, you probably already have consent. Consent is not time-limited. To make sure you’re getting consent through your online forms, either include a toggle for people to opt-in to your email list or include a statement such as, “Enter your email below to receive email from us. You can unsubscribe any time.”

Be sure to record where you got consent for everyone on your email list – you may need to produce this information if you’re the subject of a complaint.

Oh – and if you’re a non-profit membership organization, you have implied consent to email your members, as long as they’ve been active in the last two years. For registered charities and political parties, you have implied consent to email your volunteers and donors, as long as they’ve been active in the last two years.

2.     There’s a good chance much of your email is exempt from CASL.

CASL regulates “Commercial Electronic Messages” - messages that encourage recipients to take part in commercial activity.  Although this includes fundraising emails, other emails that have no commercial character, such as newsletters, are exempt.

Significantly, CASL exempts emails from charities, political parties and candidates where the primary purpose of the email is fundraising. “Fundraising emails” can also have a secondary purpose – like inviting a participant to a rally or event, or asking them to volunteer for example. 

3.     CASL doesn’t need to stand in the way of a great campaign.

CASL is designed to reduce spam while creating an even playing field and a mechanism to hold those breaking the rules accountable.

CASL should never stand in the way of a great online fundraising program, building and mobilizing your community around an issue, or campaigning for change. Knowing the rules lets you use the entire playing field.


Rachel Roy practices labour, election, and privacy law at Allevato Quail and Worth. Michael Roy is Digital Director and Principal at Point Blank Creative.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.