Can Prospect Research Be Wrong?

Recently as I was wandering the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Massachusetts Annual Philanthropy Day Conference in Boston, I stopped to speak with a prospect research company with whom I have worked on behalf of various clients. We have found them to have valuable research results, in part, because they spend the time to digitize thousands of print-only donor lists from colleges, nonprofit galas and other similar brochures and booklets. Their company is growing, so I can assume we are not the only ones who take advantage of their excellent service.

What is the newest way in which research is being used? Quick turnaround of potential donors lists. Some hospitals are sending their daily patient lists—being mindful of HIPPA restrictions—to the research company to know what potential donor is currently under their roof. The research company sends a list by 8 or 9 each morning – before the patients are discharged.

At first, I was not sure how this information was being used but I found a bit more insight  when I realized that I am not the only one who is focused on this topic this week.   In a New York Times article by Ron Lieber I read over the weekend, which did research through the fundraising software company Blackbaud, stated:

In a presentation posted on the Web titled “Grateful Patient Basics,” the company urges fund-raisers to “take advantage of the captive audience” by sending hospital admissions lists to the development office for a wealth screening within hours of when the patients are admitted. No, they will not turn up at your bedside the next morning with a capital campaign solicitation. But solicitousness is a possible result, including more visits from hospital staff and a special effort to make your stay as comfortable as possible.

You can read the entire article for yourself by clicking here, but the more I thought about it, even though the use of the information is permitted within the current regulatory environment, the more I didn’t like it.  The New York Times article confirmed that I am not alone.

I love prospect research as much as the next development professional – maybe even a bit more because I can geek out on the knowledge. I love that someone thought of a creative way to use research. I just don’t love that a place, in which vulnerability is at the core of a person’s experience, would use that relationship to profit.

Am I right? Am I wrong? I would love to hear your thoughts.