Power Marketplace’s public service journalism 💙 Give Now

The charity you support could share your info

Annie Baxter Dec 29, 2014

The charity you support could share your info

Annie Baxter Dec 29, 2014

We’ve all heard about how for-profit businesses try to get their hands on our contact information. They want to solicit us as customers and sometimes sell our information to other companies. Turns out nonprofits are hungry for information about us, too.

One way for charities to procure names of potential donors is to rent lists from what are called “list brokers.”  The charities can then send a single cold solicitation to each name on the list. But those rentals start at about $50 per 1,000 names and go up from there. And charities need a lot of names to tap.

“You have to mail or email a lot of people to uncover the one person who might support your cause,” says Sarah Durham, president of the nonprofit consulting firm Big Duck.

To avoid those rental costs, charities like Doctors Without Borders will sometimes share donor lists with other organizations whose missions don’t overlap too much. I discovered this when – full disclosure – I recently made a donation to Doctors Without Borders.

After my payment was processed online, I was asked to check a box that said, “Yes, you may share my name and mailing address with other charities.”

Molly Elliott, director of marketing at Doctors Without Borders, says the organization shares lists with charities whose support base might be similar.

“We did some analysis in 2009 that showed our average donor was giving to seven different organizations,” she says.

Elliott says those donors may vary who they’re giving to in a particular year.

Some fundraising consultants think sharing donor lists is too risky. It could put donors off, especially if their information is put in the hands of unexpected groups. Decades ago, several public media companies, including Marketplace’s parent company, took heat for sharing donor lists with the Democratic National Party. 

“I don’t particularly like the practice [of list sharing], personally,” says Gail Perry, an international fundraising consultant.

Perry says another reason to avoid sharing donor lists is potential donor poaching.

“What if the charity down the road who you share your lists with has a more heartfelt appeal than yours?” she asks.

But Elliott says charities typically share names of small-time donors, not their big fish. 

“No one exchanges their donors who’ve given a thousand dollars or more with anyone,” she says. 

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.  

This is NOT a paywall. 

Marketplace is community-funded public service journalism. Give in any amount that works for you – what matters is that you give today.