About a week ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “Smart Money: Is Your Favorite Charity Spying on You?”
The article describes how nonprofits research donors by using wealth screening tools, public records and databases that provide career and education information, stock holdings, charitable giving history, campaign contributions, and home and real estate values. Researchers have been mining this data for years; it’s nothing new. What’s new is how the internet and software tools have made the practice quicker, easier, and more comprehensive.
To those of us in the profession, we understand that this (publically available and legally-obtained) information is just one part of the equation that will help us understand our organization’s best donors and prospects. This information is balanced with a donor’s affinity for our organization and work, their giving history to us, and their connections to our staff and volunteer leaders. Together, this helps development staff focus their efforts, and make the best use of time and money, in order to advance their missions and create positive change for their communities.
Last week I attended the Willamette Valley Development Officers regional conference and heard Portland State University staff describe a program to connect with donors and alumni. Initial phone calls placed by a recent alum help PSU learn about their donors’ interests and experiences and their communication preferences so that staff can best engage with them in the areas they care about. This program is successful in identifying donors who are interested in learning more about PSU, its schools, and future plans, and those who are not – all of which is important information for their development staff. Their program is respectful, responsive, donor-centered – and research-based.
How do we avoid being creepy? By following the ethical standards set by the Association for Fundraising Professionals and the Association of Prospect Researchers for Advancement, and by developing donor confidentiality and prospect research policies for our organizations to ensure that information is used judiciously and respectfully. Also, by not saying creepy things to donors (or anyone for that matter) such as “when I was googling you the other day, I saw that…”
As far as the special treatment we bestow upon those we see as future major donors, a question brought up in the WSJ article in reference to hospitals and medical institutions, that is one each organization must reconcile for itself. Are you donor-centered or creepy? What would your donors say?
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About the Author
Natalie Lamberjack CFRE
Natalie dials into the needs of her clients by keeping a calm eye on the big picture view of the nonprofit sector.