Nonprofit Fundraising and Consumer Protection: A Donor's Right to Privacy
64 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2004
The article addresses an unexplored issue in the burgeoning scholarly debate concerning privacy rights, namely, the privacy concerns that arise when nonprofit institutions trade, sell, or otherwise exploit the personal information of charitable donors. Drawing from the experience of consumers in the sales context, the article considers whether donors who make gifts should be equated with consumers who make purchases, and therefore should fall within the reach of traditional statutory and consumer protections. After analyzing the consumer privacy legal landscape, we conclude that in the context of informational privacy, the interests of donors essentially mirror those of consumers. Any distinction based on the difference between a gift and a sale fails to consider the purpose of all privacy laws; to control the nonconsensual dissemination of personal information. Moreover, considering important public policy objectives, which include the encouragement of gratuitous undertakings, as well as maintaining public trust in nonprofits, the article suggests that protecting the charitable donor's right to privacy should be treated as tantamount to protecting consumer privacy interests.
After presenting the case for protecting the privacy rights of donors, and having explained the failure to do so until the present time, the article argues for the extension to donors of federal opt-out protections similar to those currently available in some commercial contexts. The article explores the advantages of a "do not share" registry limiting the ability of nonprofit data collection, and argues for a private right of action against organizations which trade in the personal information of donors against their will.
Keywords: nonprofit fundraising, consumer protection, donor privacy
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