Give me liberty or give me data: How GDPR may affect fundraising in the United States

One of the largest wealth screening providers, WealthEngine, pulled their operations out of the United Kingdom in light of the changing privacy laws as the General Data Protection Regulation approaches. This action alone should make United States entities take notice of GDPR, which comes into full effect in May this year. For a very helpful explanation of the key points of GDPR, take a look at this article in Forbes.

Prospect research is a key part of fundraising operations in the US, and the GDPR laws do not change the importance of research in fundraising. They simply change the environment a bit. As fundraisers, gathering prospect research on individuals who live in the EU would be off limits, even for US-based organizations. (This does not change the legality of researching US-based prospects.) Though this will most likely affect institutions like universities or independent schools that have international students or alumni living abroad, every organization may come under the microscope – even those that have a minute percentage of constituents living abroad.

The regulation, however, does not mean it is illegal to fundraise from international alumni and/or parents of students who live abroad. It means that researching a prospect without their knowledge is not allowed. This may slow down the process of identifying major gift prospects but should not discourage fundraisers from approaching international prospects.

The regulation should drive more personal relationships (which is what major gift fundraising and alumni relations is all about anyway!) In the absence of research, prospects should more liberally be included in discovery calls and meetings. Building relationships and working with donors and prospects to connect them to the work of the organization becomes that much more important. Where research would often expedite the process of identifying top prospects to help fund a great cause, in light of GDPR, more personal outreach will be needed.

The EU’s GDPR certainly makes it tougher to conduct research on prospects, but it should actually prompt more direct outreach and relationship building with prospects.  Let the GDPR push fundraisers to develop MORE personal relationships and raise MORE money in the process!

Contact for details on how Graham-Pelton can help you through to GDPR to ensure you remain in contact with your supporters, inform your supporters, and achieve the best fundraising results possible.

Jim Rude is Senior Manager at Graham-Pelton Consulting. 

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