Does Your Nonprofit Protect Constituent Data? | npENGAGE

Does Your Nonprofit Protect Constituent Data?

By on Jun 21, 2012


I have seen some back and forth lately in some discussion groups and listservs around use of data gathered on prospects and donors.  I think I can safely say that the nonprofits I have worked with take the notion of how they utilize their data, whether it is with modeling, wealth screening, or basic demographic data, very seriously.  It is recommended by experts in our industry that this data only be used only for making informed decisions on who the nonprofit is going to prioritize for gift qualification, cultivation, solicitation, etc., as well as timing and potential ask amount levels.  I think that is why I would describe the work performed by the prospect research and development community as being truly ethical and unique as well.

Let me explain this further.  We should never collect this data to resell or make a profit, and that is what makes us unique in comparison to so many other for-profit industries.  We live in a time when there is more personal information available than ever before in our history, and it is readily accessible due to our ever-expanding desire for technological innovation.  As a society we want data, and we want it now!  We also want this data organized and relevant. 

The recent allegations against Spokeo by the FTC, which they did settle by paying an $800,000 fine, for collecting and selling information to hiring firms, background screening firms, and headhunters, brings to light how it is our job to keep the data we research and collect confidential.  We should utilize this data strictly for the important work that we do in our development offices to further our organizations’ missions.  But we must go a step further to make sure our systems are secure and that we go above and beyond to protect our constituent’s information that we store and use for these purposes.  I think you will find this white paper helpful, entitled, “Protecting Your Constituents’ Personal Information”, written by Susan U. McLaughlin,  CFRE, a Principal Consultant for the Healthcare and Human Services sector here at Blackbaud.

There are many other resources out there on this subject, and I encourage you to take the time to investigate, evaluate, and if need be, revise your data privacy and security.  At the end of the day, the information we gather about our prospects helps us raise more money by providing critical support for the organizations we work for and care about, and that should be reason enough to make sure it stays safe and sound.

*Carol Belair is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at


Comments (4)

  • Olivia_Australia says:

    Thanks Carol for this fantastic article – a great reminder of the ethics behind prospect research, that we use information in the public domain and absolutely never to resell or make a profit. At the end of the day fundraising strategy driven by prospect research will lead to more efficient fundraising and a more productive industry. It’s such an exciting time to be part of it!

  • Carol Belair says:

    Olivia – I could not agree more.  Glad you enjoyed it and feel free to share it with others, most importantly the link to Susan McLaughlin’s white paper.  I like your mention of how prospect research itself is part of a more efficient and productive fundraising strategy.  Kudos!  It’s important to those who donate to non-profits that we practice these types of efficiencies and good use of staff time.  I think they appreciate that we are good stewards with their generousity.  Thank you Olivia!

  • Jen Filla says:

    We know that people become donors because they *trust* the nonprofit. And I couldn’t agree more that we need to protect that trust by keeping the data we collect private and confidential. But prospect research is one step in fundraising and the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and other news articles I have read that are causing panic about prospect research point to another breach involving prospect research – poor fundraising practices. If we use prospect research to identify the most qualified prospects and then fail to cultivate those individuals respectfully, well, ouch! Suddenly our nonprofit looks like a loser and even the best practices in prospect research take on dark shadows…

  • Carol Belair says:

    Absolutely Jen.  The entire fundraising office needs to run with the same level of respect and confidentiality in regards to prospect information.  It is always good to have very clear and comprehensive policies in place.  It is also an excellent idea to provide training around these policies and practices.  The information is only as good as it is shared and understood by the entire development team and adhered to throughout every stage of prospect information gathering, management, and utilization.  Thank you for your comment!

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