Worried about the Daily Mail bashing university fundraisers? Here are 5 things you can do!

21 November 2017

For anyone who works in education fundraising, yesterday’s Daily Mail cover story would have made vexing reading, to say the least.

In its very worst display of sensationalist click-bait (and a grammatical error in the headline adding to the irk-factor), the tabloid’s Investigations Editor, Paul Bentley has woven a tale of ‘greedy’ universities ‘spying’ on their former students to analyse personal wealth for fundraising purposes.

I don’t want to drive a single extra click to the story, but if you’re reading this blog I assume you’ve probably heard the furore and have seen the article already – if not below is a screen shot of the offending item, or you can read a more measured summary by The Guardian here.

The Daily Mail has alleged potential legal wrongdoing by 24 Russell Group universities and made parallels with last year’s investigation in to two prominent charities that resulted in fines from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Unsurprisingly, such allegations have rattled school and university development staff who work hard to foster a spirit of philanthropy and build meaningful donor databases. This group of well-intentioned fundraising professionals are facing a great deal of uncertainty about what they should, and shouldn’t do regarding personal data, and what steps to take in the weeks and months ahead. And I haven’t even mentioned GDPR and BREXIT yet.

Here are five suggestions to help you feel less ‘at sea’.  Numbers 2, 3 and 4 are the most important and should probably involve a data law expert.

1 – Read this helpful Q&A written by Adrian Beney from fundraising consultancy More Partnership, which unpicks the Daily Mail article in digestible bite-size chunks. Importantly Adrian makes the point that wealth-screening, if done transparently, is not against the law and that nothing ‘revealed’ by the Daily Mail is new – certainly not to the ICO who are aware that donor research is a common (and sensible!) activity for any fundraising team.

2 – Review whether your institution has conducted any form of wealth screening, and if so, check how this was communicated to the individuals involved

3 – Check your current privacy policy and consider whether you need to change/ add anything to clearly explain what personal data you collect, what you use it for and if you ever send your data to third parties

4 – Think about what other proactive steps you can take to communicate with your alumni (and wider community) about your fundraising goals and tactics

5 – Remind yourself that the Daily Mail is a paper at the forefront of the ‘Fake News’ maelstrom and a news source determined as unreliable by Wikipedia, ditched by socially conscious advertisers such as Lego and Paperchase, even censured for publishing the wrong verdict of the Amanda Knox trial with fabricated quotes. It seems the journalist Paul Bentley has a personal bug bear about fundraising practices, but he’s widely condemned for his appalling journalism and hopefully the ICO will take stock of this.
ToucanTech published a practical Q&A about UK Data Law (written by our legal advisors, Stone King) earlier this year – you can download it for free from our website Resources page.

Here’s what we said about wealth screening in the Q&A:

There is no issue with you using wealth management analysis, as long as you can still comply with that first Data Protection Principle [in the Data Protection Act].  Whether you are sending it to a third party or just using publicly available information, the process of applying any kind of wealth screening is a separate “use” of the data, and so you have to be able to show that it is fair, lawful, and meets a condition in Schedule 2 of the Data Protection Act.  In practice, this means being upfront about doing this, and telling individuals what you are doing, by saying something like: “we may use wealth assessment techniques to analyse the data that you provide.”  You then need to take steps to ensure that you have consent for this, particularly if you are sending the information to a third party.  Following the recent cases of the British Heart Foundation and RSPCA, implied consent on the basis that you mentioned it in your privacy policy is unlikely to be enough.

Finally, on a personal note, I thought it would be reassuring to share some thoughts from my Dad, Guy Jillings, who makes quite generous donations to his old school (Kingston Grammar) and to his Cambridge college (St John’s) and has views that are probably representative of his era:

“I find it difficult to get worked up about a supposed scandal concerning the accumulation of market data on the wealth potential of any group – be it alumni or any other association.  Every charity in the land would like to attract a bigger income from donations and it is obvious that they should focus their effort on where they believe the money and the goodwill is concentrated.  To act in any other way is inefficient and counterproductive

Is there a moral question about how intrusive their methods should be? I don’t think so. I am flooded with requests for donations accompanied by photos of people and animals in distress.  Some people find this offensive, but I think more troubling is the environmental waste of so much paper that ends up in the bin – a more targeted approach to donors would be better.

Employing people to discover wealth estimates seems a logical extension – it is after all what banks, financial institutions and retailers have been doing for years, it’s the basis of the popular Sunday Times Rich List and is the essence of what Jane Austin books were about”

Kate Jillings is the Co-Founder of ToucanTech, a GDPR-compliant community database software used by schools, colleges and companies to manage alumni relations, fundraising and careers mentoring.

 

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