“Isn’t That a Bit Distasteful?”

June 29, 2015

I recently asked a leader of a charity whether they had wealth screened their database.  They responded with discomfort and said, “Isn’t it rather distasteful to find out how rich someone is?”  Their view was that we should treat everyone in the same way, and those who are richer will automatically give more.  I couldn’t have disagreed more strongly.

We spend years recruiting supporters, volunteers, and donors.  We keep their records on our databases, and we use that data in more or less sophisticated ways depending on the resources and skills we have in our organisations.

Whatever form our data is in, it represents a bank of time, energy, investment, and commitment from our side and from those whose names we keep.  Don’t we owe it to them to use that data in really smart ways?  To be highly efficient and effective in our fundraising? Don’t people expect that?

The people whose names inhabit our databases are used to being sold to in very sophisticated, tailored ways.  When they go online, the ad that appears is for a retailer they bought from last week.  When they visit a web site, the content is tailored to the clicks they made yesterday.  Their supermarket sends them vouchers for things they regularly buy.

I am sure we would all agree that we should use our data to design approaches that most closely match the interests of our supporters.  Surely, we should design asks that also match their abilities to give.

When we wealth screen our databases, we are simply accessing publicly held information on an individual’s wealth and interests.  This is the sort of information they have freely given to other organisations.  Isn’t it only responsible to know if one of our supporters has given a big donation to a similar cause, or is a trustee of a grant making trust you are applying to?  Wouldn’t a very wealthy supporter prefer that you approached them personally for a meaningful and impactful major gift, rather than send them a letter asking for £50 or £100 a few times a year?  If we want to build long-term, meaningful relationships with our supporters, then knowledge of their philanthropic interests is vital.  It is not distasteful; it is professional, thoughtful, and responsive.  In fact, isn’t it distasteful for a charity to be inefficient and not use the resources at their disposal to maximise their impact?

– Susie Hills, Managing Director

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