Should You Recognize Donors on Your Website?

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    On a listserve dealing with nonprofit-related legal matters, an attorney commented: “I can think of several of my law clients who have made very large gifts, and who would be horrified at the thought of having their names published on the Internet. They would feel that this was an invasion of their privacy, and that it would expose them to all sorts of unwanted solicitations.

    “Of course, to be fair, I have plenty of other clients who want the publicity and would actually enjoy the wider exposure that the web brings.”

    In Response:
    The various Codes of Ethics impacting the nonprofit sector clearly state that donors have the right to privacy, and only they can give permission for their names to be publicized.

    There are three common ways nonprofit organizations can make it easy for donors to clarify their preference:
    1. (Preferable) By asking them to check a box on the forms they return with their gifts agreeing
        that their name may be used;
    2. (Not as Preferable) By asking them to check a box on the forms they return with their gift
        denying permission for their names to be used; and,
    3. (Least Preferable) By asking that donors check a box on the form they return with their
        gifts if they don’t wish their names published – and indicating that if the box is not
        checked, the assumption will be made that permission has been given.

    Since not every nonprofit organization is yet asking donors for such permission, and not every donor reads all those forms as carefully as they should, NPOs should make the extra effort — especially when contemplating publicizing donors’ names as broadly as would a web-page — to adequately inform donors and to get specific permission.

    It’s considerate, and it’s good donor relations.

    And, publishing a donor’s name in an off-line/printed annual report, or in any other format in any medium, should engender the same kind/degree of consideration of the donor’s right to privacy.

    Interestingly enough, most NPOs to which I’ve described this concept, and emphasized the ethics of complying with such rules of “consideration,” choose not to consider that concept to the degree it should be considered.

    It points up the need for everyone (board, staff, volunteers) to be educated about the ethics of fund raising.

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