Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Donor Care & Privacy

Mary Allie of Marquette, Michigan is a regular donor to the North Shore Animal League - an animal rescue organization that has a no euthanize policy. Recently, she's received a new benefit of being a donor to North Shore: sweepstakes advertisements in the mail.

No, North Shore is not in the sweepstakes business, they've simply sold their mailing list to the sweepstakes company. Buying and selling mailing lists is a perfectly legal activity, but it is not without ethical issues.

Does your nonprofit organization sell your donor lists? Do you have a privacy policy that spells out under what conditions you will release the names and contact information about your donors?

In the case of North Shore Animal League, their policy is, "if donors want to remove their name from the list, they just have to mention it." The problem with that policy is that it is up to the donor to figure out that their names might be sold and be pro-active about removing it.

If she so requests, North Shore will no longer be able to sell Mary Allie's name, but now that the sweepstakes company has it, who else will they sell it to?

It is a much better policy for the nonprofit to be the pro-active one. First, create a list management and privacy policy and decide if and when you might share your list. Then, make that policy public - post it on your web site, publish it in your annual report or a newsletter. Then, on your donation forms, place a check box for donors to opt-in (I.E. "Check here if we may share your information with other organizations and corporate partners").

Personally, I don't think nonprofits should ever be selling their donor lists. There are times, however, when it might be appropriate to trade lists with another kindred organization. But, before you do so, make sure your donors are aware of how you use their information.

Don't wait for the phone call offering to buy your list to decide what to do. Get your management team and board together to discuss this and create a list management and privacy policy today.

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1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. This is an issue we wrestle with from time to time at Interplast.