The Wall Street Journal reports that nonprofits are gathering data on people to target them for donations, and sometimes the extent of the personal data collected is troubling:
When your favorite nonprofit isn’t busy saving the whales, chances are it’s making a serious behind-the-scenes effort to know you better — using increasingly sophisticated technology. It can survey your salary history, scan your LinkedIn connections or use satellite images to eyeball the size of your swimming pool. If it’s really on the ball, the charity can even get an email alert when your stock holdings double. […]
According to marketing-research firm Campbell Rinker, nearly half of all charities now use these tools to research donors. Nonprofits say donor analysis helps them focus their time and resources on those who are most likely to give.
In most cases, charities rely only on publicly available data. Still, donors might be startled to learn how much data have been compiled by charities, and how they’re used. Even some fund-raisers worry that donors will find the increasing depth of their background research to be too intrusive. Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute for Philanthropy, says there’s a good reason most nonprofits keep these research efforts behind closed doors: “It creeps a lot of people out.” […]
Medical institutions have been particularly aggressive about prospect research. Some use software to screen admissions lists; some even train doctors to identify new prospects. Once a patient is scouted as a VIP, the perks roll in. At the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, some 1,200 donors and volunteers can get priority for appointments with specialists.