Your org + big data

March 22, 2018

It’s a given that by using the Internet, some of your information is tracked and shared. (I.e. that search for a new pair of shoes that follows you around for weeks in the form of unceasing advertising….)

Yet, in light of the somewhat unsurprising allegations about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, it’s a good time to review your organization’s relationship with your own data and with big data.

The first vitally important step to take is to review your own privacy rules and protocols to ensure that your own donor data is safe from unwanted breaches.

Then make sure your privacy policy is shared somewhere online, and that your staff is aware so that they can direct donors to it upon request.

This is important: If your organization appends files with demographic information or email addresses, uses modeled acquisition lists for direct mail campaigns, or conducts digital advertising campaigns for example, it’s important to understand that you are using big data.

First, don’t have a knee-jerk reaction and stop these activities, because they are key to strong donor connections in our modern world.

Instead, take steps to ensure that your organization is protected, and isn’t party to using data that may have been accessed either unethically or illegally.

This is as simple as choosing your partners carefully, and vetting the ones you already have.

  • Reach out to your partners and ask about their own protocols and processes.
  • Ask for a written policy statement.
  • Ask where they get their data. (Some of their process may be proprietary to retain a unique business advantage, but they should be able to provide a satisfactory explanation without divulging information that makes their product distinct.)
  • Ask who their partners are, and check them out too.

Fully vetting big data sources is a challenge. Infinite fingers reach out everywhere, and it’s often difficult to assess a steady through-line. For example, you may work with a partner who’s delivering you a modeled list for your fundraising efforts, but they’re actually procuring it from another company. You want to know who that company is. If your partners will not share this information, this is a red flag.

It’s important to make these efforts to protect your own organization from scandal, and to re-confirm that you have chosen partners who can be trusted to keep their processes safe, secure, and ethical.