Facebook and Prospect Research – Too Big Brother? | npENGAGE

Facebook and Prospect Research – Too Big Brother?

By on Oct 7, 2010


When I was a front-line fundraiser, I used to read the newspaper every morning and clip out pictures of board members, major donors and prospects to keep them in our manila files.  I never knew where I would be and would need to recognize this individual.  It helped with my memory, and certainly helped when we had a large special event and I needed to identify many people quickly. 

Recently, I was working with some consulting clients, showing them a new feature that uploads a photo of the prospect to the database.  No more newspaper photos in files.  As you can imagine, due to the common practice of internet postings of private and public company annual reports and corporate director listings, it is fairly easy to find a professional photo of your prospect. 

However, on this day, the first photo that came up in the internet search was a photo from the prospect’s Facebook page.  This group of researchers went on to read their prospect’s Facebook profile. 

While I quickly grabbed the photo to demonstrate attaching it to a database, I was left with a bad feeling about looking at this gentleman’s database.  I’d be interested to hear from others how they feel about this type of data mining. 

The researchers were able to see some information that can be found from other sources.  Spousal information and names of children can be found through a Who’s Who record that is voluntarily submitted to that company.  Hobbies, memberships and religious affiliations are also frequently listed on Who’s Who biographical records. However, it feels wrong in some manner to learn that he is an avid fisherman by viewing his personally posted photos of his latest catch in Key West.  Would I rather learn that he is active in cancer research fundraising by seeing his name on a web posted annual report, or from a photo on his Facebook page of him running in a Race for the Cure

I am aware that some of this is his choice – he chooses the privacy settings of his Facebook page.  But are we crossing a line when we are culling information from a page that is essentially an “internet diary”? 

Please post your thoughts – many of us are on the fence about this type of research.


Comments (1)

  • David Lamb says:

    Great post Kate! I have seen two schools of thought with respect to answering this question. One has to do with the intent of the Facebook member. It is a reasonably good assumption that the intent is to share information with friends and colleagues. We could state that negatively saying that the intent was not to disclose personnal informaiton to nonprofits or employers.

    However, there is an argument to suggest that this Facebook information is acceptable to use even with in this school of thought. In my experience, it is unusual to be able to see this level of disclosure for a person who is not already a Facebook friend. Has the person friended the institution? If so, I think it's OK to use it. If not, then that suggests that the individual has set his privacy settings at such a low level (high disclosure) because he is open in meeting others on Facebook who are fly fishermen or who share his other interests. Unfortunately, that puts us back into a gray area having to do with the member's intent.

    Which brings us to the other school of thought: if I put my personal information on a billboard, whether it's on the side of the road or on Facebook, I can't be surprised if other people read it.

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