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 firstname.lastname@example.org.