Data sharing generates revenue for some charities

Annie Baxter Nov 27, 2015
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Data sharing generates revenue for some charities

Annie Baxter Nov 27, 2015
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Americans making their year-end contributions to charities might be surprised to learn their information might be shared, especially if they’re small-time contributors.

“It’s going to cost a lot of money to kind of move you through the funnel to be a more high-end, committed donor,” said Sandra Miniutti with the watchdog group Charity Navigator. “So a quick way for them to generate some additional revenue off of you is to sell your personal information.”

Your name and address could go to other charities or to data brokers, who may put it together with other information about you in ways that are useful to for-profit marketers.

“Most of the time you’ll end up with a mailbox full of appeals from other charities,” said Miniutti. “But you may also notice other types of catalogs and marketing materials showing up.” 

Charity Navigator’s criteria for evaluating charities include whether organizations have clear donor privacy policies.

Law professor Norman Silber at Hofstra University said charities should allow donors to consent to information sharing, though he said polling data indicates most donors would still opt out.

“They say, ‘No, it’s not okay,’” he said.

Direct Relief, a charity that provides emergency medical resources, said it doesn’t exchange or sell its donors’ information. 

Chief executive Thomas Tighe said that’s partly to avoid what he sees as a double standard. He said most charities would never share names of their high-end donors; they closely guard that information. 

“We don’t think it would be right to treat a person able to make a smaller contribution differently,” Tighe said.

But Avivah Litan, a security analyst at Gartner, said if it is just small-time donors’ information getting circulated, there’s a lower risk of cyber criminals trying to intercept it.

“The bad guys that are going after the money don’t want to waste their time on poor individuals,” she said. “They want to go after wealthy individuals.”

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