Christine---In all my years as director of development for a major performing arts organization, we never gave anyone our donor list, much less would we sell it. in the latter instance, we would be selling out our donors. They gave their money to us by choice, and we were certain that most of them would have taken a dim view were we to sell---or otherwise give---their names to other organizations. Even so, we would not do it without their permission, and to seek their permission for such a procedure, would have been a foolish and futile exercise.
Many of our donors were brought to us initially, introduced to our organization, cultivated, solicited, and maintained in a program of stewardship, by board members and other volunteers, other donors, and staff. The latter group of our “family” would have been dismayed, even annoyed, were we to have sold to other organizations the names of the donors they brought to us---especially if we began to lose some of those donors, or receive less money as a result of other organizations having such easy and random access to them which we made possible.
I truly never turned away anyone from any other non-profit who wanted to come in to talk to me about their challenges and problems---or simply to discuss fund-raising principles and concepts. I was happy to do so, but I would never discuss specific donors or prospects, whether or not they gave to us. To me, the spirit of cooperation and the mutual wish to have our organizations strong and flourishing, ended short of me telling anyone who was giving money to us. For one thing, they could find that out by reading our Annual Report and expending effort on their own to research addresses.
We felt that organizations should themselves work to look for names and addresses of donors to other organizations. They could obtain those potential donor leads from those other organizations which might publish their donors’ names in their annual reports and from other sources in the community. As we did, those organizations can then get to work to identify, research, contact, solicit, or otherwise cultivate, those donors through their own effort to work to try to convince them, over time, to give money to their organization.
These days, more and more unwelcome “cold” solicitations are being made through telefunding and direct mail to individuals through such list selling and exchanging. Most of those donors might have already indicated their giving choices, and settled on their favored organizations, but now are receiving unwanted solicitations, making them overwhelmed and annoyed with those multiple asks, and who, should they discover how their names were used, could resent that their names and addresses as donors were sold, or exchanged, with other non-profits.
Sharing is a good thing to do in many ways between non-profits, and we do it all of the time. We do it regularly and in high volume right here on the PND Board. But turning over an organization’s donor listing to other non-profits, makes no sense at all to me.
Collaborate with another organization when the opportunity is there to obtain more money from a foundation with a partnership proposal. Share facility space with fellow non-profits, share equipment, share program information, partner in advocacy activities, exchange brochures and other material, etc., and most of all, give encouragement --- but never, ever, give up your donors’ names, addresses---and giving history---to another organization, especially when there is a chance the names could be overused and misused.
We do care that our fellow organizations succeed, but our responsibility --- first and foremost --- is to see to it that our own organization does its best to serve those needing us and counting on us. And we do this by having our donors and prospects handled and nurtured as if they were our very own.
We were cooperative and caring when it came to our colleagues at other non-profits---but it stopped short with our donor list.
P. S.. To reinforce my point: Many, many years ago I was called and asked to make a gift to an organization which, though worthy, was one I would not remotely support. I simply had no interest. But, the caller was an old friend, a board member of the organization, and I complied by making a small gift. The next year, that organization sent a solicitation to me for a renewed gift as “Mr. Anthony Podsail.” I replied to state that my previous gift was a one-time response to a friend and, by the way, corrected their spelling of my name.
Despite that request, I am solicited every year in the same “Podsail” way by that same organization, and over the years, I have received dozens of similar requests for donations, by mail and phone calls, from a number of other, widely different, organizations---all asking “Mr. Podsail” for money. So, guess from where they got that "Podsail" donor's name?
From that personal, and bothersome, experience, as well as my argument on behalf of our organization, I believe it’s a bad practice to give away your donor list---and even worse to sell it.