Planned Giving: Too Much Information?
Untangling the Web
What about information gathered during a donor’s visit to a planned-giving Web site? For example, if you maintain a tax-deduction calculator on your site, should you be recording information a donor might enter regarding the amount of a proposed gift, pay-out rate, age, etc.?
Without permission, probably not. How do you ask for permission? One way might be to ask Web site visitors at the outset if they want the information saved. How would you answer that question if you were about to embark on an exploration of your organization’s Web site?
Another possibility might be to indicate before a donor leaves the site that only by checking a box will personal information be shared with the charity.
In any event, it might be wise to seek a legal opinion and/or board-level approval of policies regarding the retention and use of information donors might leave behind after a visit to your site.
What about information that is publicly available? Would most donors be offended if you obtained age information from public sources to reduce the cost of your fundraising efforts by, for example, not sending information about gift annuities to people in their 30s? How would you answer that question if the information obtained was your age?
Clearly the gathering and use of certain information is appropriate and would be expected to lead to few, if any, objections from donors. In other cases, the answer might not be so clear.
As in many other areas of human endeavor, there are no clear-cut answers to questions regarding the gathering and use of information as part of planned-gift development efforts.
When faced with donor-privacy decisions that might have moral and ethical implications, it’s wise to put the decision to these five tests.
1. Is the activity legal? If you don’t know or aren’t sure, find out. If it isn’t, you can disregard the rest of the tests. An example of information that may not legally be used in planned-gift development is personal health history that a hospital has because a donor was treated at the facility. That is not an ethical issue; it’s federal law.