Raymund Flandez blogged at Philanthropy.com about reactions that prospect researchers at the APRA conference had to an article in the Wall Street Journal that came out in May. That article questioned whether the activities of prospect researchers constituted an invasion of privacy. The prospect research community was a little sensitive about this as you might imagine. Mr. Flandez notes that some researchers fear that this kind of negative publicity “could lead to a government crackdown on what information fund raisers can glean.”
My reaction is: I doubt it. The resources used by prospect researchers are the same ones used by business. We live in a capitalist free market society that thrives on the free flow of factual information. I’m talking about insider stock holdings and real estate assessments. I’m talking about marketing databases like Larkspur. I’m talking about Federal Election Commission gift reports. If this kind of information were cut off, business in America would choke. And business speaks louder in this country than philanthropy.
I am reminded of a line from the APRA Position Paper on Privacy: The availability of information in the public domain does not drive the collection of data nor supersede ethical principles and practices in its use. Although information that is public now will probably not go away, what we do with that information is driven by the kind of relationship we want to develop with our constituents. It is a relationship of respect, trust, and of mutual endeavor toward a common goal. The information will be there, but our organizations may not be if we violate that relationship.
Therefore strict adherence to the APRA Statement of Ethics and the Position Paper on Privacy are essential as prospect researchers work to help good people do the good things that they want to do with their resources.