Major donors 'would support wealth screening', says academic

Beth Breeze, director of the Centre for Philanthropy, tells an Institute of Fundraising conference that the attitude of the Information Commissioner's Office to fundraising is 'distressing and ridiculous'

Beth Breeze
Beth Breeze

Major donors expect fundraisers to have done their research and would support wealth screening, according to Beth Breeze, the director of the University of Kent’s Centre for Philanthropy.

Speaking at the Institute of Fundraising’s Major Donor Conference in London yesterday, Breeze said she found the attitude of the Information Commissioner’s Office to fundraising "distressing and ridiculous". She said its view that carrying out wealth screening without notifying the person being researched was an inherently unfair way to use the data was probably not shared by major donors.

Breeze, who leads the research for an annual publication about charitable donations of £1m or more, said she had not yet conducted research into major donors’ views on the fines levied against the RPSCA and the British Heart Foundation for, among other things, their wealth-screening activities.

But she said previous research had found that 68 per cent of major donors believed it was important for fundraisers to do their research before approaching them to avoid wasting their time.

"I was very engaged in 2012 when the government proposed a cap on major donations, and it was very nice to see how often the donors were on the side of the fundraisers and the charities," Breeze said.

"They see themselves as partners, not as adversaries that are being interfered with. If that experience is anything to go by, I think there are more allies out there than we realise."

Breeze spoke after Hannah Lyons, an associate at the law firm Bates Wells Braithwaite, warned that the Data Protection Act meant major donor fundraisers had to contact potential donors as soon as possible after researching them to alert them that their data was being processed, even if they decided not to ask for money.

Although she acknowledged that the advice came from a legal requirement, Breeze said many major donors would be more irritated to receive the notifications than they would be to find out their wealth had been researched.

She said: "I would find it odd to receive a letter saying ‘we’ve investigated you and it turns out you’re not rich enough or nice enough for us to approach you – best wishes, the charity’."

But she was quick to add that this was her personal opinion rather than legal advice.

"These are generous people who want to give," Breeze said. "But they’re busy wealth creating, so they want you to help them find those causes and get on with it. I wouldn’t imagine they want a lot of letters.

"Fundraisers play a crucial role in developing relationships and creating contexts in which generous people can be generous."

If you’re interested in fundraising, you can’t miss Third Sector’s Annual Fundraising Conference on 23 and 24 May. Click here for more information and to book at the Early Bird rate.

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