When two friends and former clients simultaneously moved from one employer (which I will call Alpha) to a new employer (which I will call Beta), they already knew a lot about the new employer’s donors and prospects, because of their experience at Alpha. And they had collaborated on many major donor solicitations.
This presented an ethical dilemma for them. Standard No. 18 in the AFP’s Code of Ethics says “Members shall adhere to the principle that all donor and prospect information created by, or on behalf of,
an organization or a client is the property of that organization or client.”
The question put to me was: “How do we manage knowledge of donors when crossing to another organization? How do you ‘pretend’ to not know what you know?”
Here’s what I said (edited for confidentiality and length.)
That’s a tricky question. You know what you know.
We face this as consultants: we must studiously avoid porting any “proprietary” information from one client to another that might “improve” the result for the lower-performing charity. When we must, we can say “We can’t comment on that.” It works because we’re not making final solicitation decisions.
This will be harder for you.
The AFP principle is clear, but doesn’t speak to how you manage the accumulated knowledge you have. Always, the spirit of your effort is key, rather than the letter of a policy. But I propose these boundaries.
- You can never report outside of Alpha what any Alpha donor has done or even that they are Alpha donors, unless that information is public.
- You cannot approach specific Alpha donors with news of your move UNLESS you had relationships prior to joining Alpha.
- You and your former/current colleague should never discuss the history of Alpha donors, even privately. That information is no longer yours.
- You cannot comment to any Beta donor about his/her giving history at Alpha UNLESS the donor raises it.
- Even if it wanted to, Alpha cannot give you a dispensation to build on its information for selected donors – in the end, it’s not their information.
- You cannot create a prospect list for Beta based on donors you met through Alpha. Some other route to identifying and qualifying those prospects must be followed.
- Because prospect identification and solicitation is part of your job, you must be honest with yourself about the prospect’s signs of interest/ affinity for the cause, and other parameters that would put someone new on the radar for your new employer, or elevate their priority. Involving others with no history of your former employer will help.
- Ideally a legitimate ask amount will emerge organically through prospect identification, considering affinity, history and estimated capacity of the donor. Jacking up proposed ask amounts for certain Beta prospects based on their giving to Alpha violates confidentiality. It also mistakenly assumes that a donor weights each case the same way, when they certainly do not. Because your knowledge will undoubtedly be a factor in your own inner dialogue, involving other staff or even volunteers in setting ask amounts can protect you somewhat.
- Once a prospect is legitimately identified for your new employer, and you know, for example, that the prospect likes breakfast meetings, it’s stupid to ignore that knowledge. It’s also stupid to flag your knowledge: keeping your own counsel is smart.
The passage of time will help. If a year from now you’ve diligently qualified a bunch of people who happen also to be Alpha donors, so be it. But if your first 10 calls are on Alpha donors not already known to Beta, you have a problem.
Exercise restraint. Do the work that would yield prospects. Create the profiles so you have a paper trail. Be scrupulous about what you talk about. Soon there will be no issue.
This is an interesting challenge. Few people likely care as much as you will – I always liked that about you.
So, what would you say? We know what and who we know. How do we ethically steward that information?
Larry Matthews, CFRE, is Vice-President of KMA Consultants Inc., which specializes in campaigns and pre-campaign studies, annual fund reviews, and major gift planning and coaching. Larry has been a fundraiser since 1983 and a consultant since 1995, with specialized expertise in case development, research among donors, and donor communications of all kinds. He writes an occasional blog which can be found at http://www.kmaconsultants.ca/ email to: firstname.lastname@example.org