Who Is Calling Your Givers?

A mother made a gift to a public-television station in Boston in the name of her 4-year-old son. Soon thereafter, her son received a fundraising appeal from the Democratic National Committee. Then, the finger-pointing began between the Democrats and the Republicans. 

“The Public Broadcasting flap may be a needed wake-up call for some of our members in this age of the electronic marketplace,” said ECFA’s President Emeritus, Paul D. Nelson. “This is an excellent time for ministries to step forward and assure the donor public that information in the ministry’s hands is used responsibly to further the organization’s mission and with respect for the giver’s choice.”

Timothy Burgess, Partner with The Domain Group, counsels their religious clients not to exchange, loan or rent their donor lists. He continues, “Even with disclosure and the privilege of ‘opting out’ of a mailing list, most givers don’t realize the significance of this issue.” While ECFA does not have a standard addressing this topic, adopting a policy forbidding the exchange, loan or rental of their mailing list provides the ultimate protection for givers.

Here are key questions every ministry should ask itself regarding the privacy of giver mailing list information:

  • Does your organization have a written policy covering the privacy of giver information? If you do have a policy, occasionally share your policy in the  periodicals you send to givers.
  • Do you take other steps to help your givers avoid receiving unwanted mail? Randy Brewer, vice president with Grizzard, recommends that you “also suggest that givers contact the Direct Mail Association in New York (212-768-7277) and ask to be placed on the national ‘no junk mail’ purge list.  Commit to use this national list to purge your acquisition mailings.”
  • When someone calls or writes to request removal from your mailing list, do you honor the request by removing them from your active mail file, being sure to retain the name for purging from future acquisition mailings?
  • Do you segment giver names from your active mail list after a certain time period (12+, 18+ or 24+ months) to insure that lapsed givers are not continually mailed?
  • If your organization does exchange or sell names, do your givers have the choice to “opt out” of having their names and other information traded or sold (known in the industry as “in-house suppression”)?

Tom McCabe, chairman of KMA Direct Communications sums it up well. “The careful handling of giver names is a significant stewardship issue for any ministry. I believe the first responsibility any organization has is to inform their givers of the organization policies on donor ‘stewardship’—how they will be faithful to the giver’s intentions, maintain appropriate records and adhere to strict confidentiality in all giver transactions and communications with the ministry. The second responsibility is to have whatever staff or systems support necessary to live up to your policies.”


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.