Let’s face it, most fundraisers and the nonprofits they serve—along with virtually every other profession– are governed by motives beyond just the noble ones they claim.

Nonprofits need to raise money to survive. Journalism is a business that needs to make money to survive. Political candidates need to raise money to campaign and win.

Increasingly there seems to be a growing madness involving the use of mailing lists and frequency of appeals for readership or donations or votes. Every click is treated as a metric of success.

Are too many of today’s fundraisers navigating waters charted to optimize donor engagement and loyalty or just short-term gains and fees at the expense of a longer-term future?

Sadly, I suspect the answer is “bank the money today, tomorrow will have to fend for itself”.

Kevin’s post Thimble or Ocean?  references physicist Thomas Kuhn’s belief that a paradigm of traditional “best practices” eventually collapses on itself and is replaced by an entirely different paradigm.  A revolutionary change to something new and different; massive change impossible to avoid by simply tweaking the old.

Well, I’ll see Kevin’s physicist and raise him by a philosopher of technology, Paul Virillio.  Both seem to arrive at roughly the same place.  Virillio saw the application of technology in both its positive and negative dimensions:

                  “When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution…Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress.

With the rise of the CRM, the internet and smart phone, and especially e-mail and SMS, I’ve marveled (and worried) about the speed and frequency with which some organizations blitz their constituents and the wider world.

I first began to worry more than marvel back in early 2016 when the media, advocacy nonprofits, and political candidates were focused on Donald Trump’s candidacy and doing their damndest to sound the warning, raise money and build their audiences.  But in practice, appreciation of the audience be damned.

Les Moonves, then CEO of CBS said this about Trump’s candidacy and the attention his network paid to Trump in its drive for viewers: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Of course, in the 8 years since that mad scramble for audience, donors and warm prospects has rocketed to the point where almost everyone with an email account, a tv set, a social media account, or an old-fashioned letter slot is caught in a swirling deluge of information, offers and appeals ranging from motivational to malicious.

Frankly, I believe this “send more, make more” practice has taken us beyond annoying.  It’s diminishing the loyalty and value of donors to the point where outright greed and unscrupulous practices will ultimately wreck us all.

I’ve been working on a post involving Elder Abuse (most donors fall into the “elder” category) the unethical use of data, the abuses of some data cooperatives, some CRMs, and some consultants when it comes to their handling of data, ranging from the cavalier to just plain crooked.

That post was interrupted by news that one of my favorite members of Congress, Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), celebrated for her advocacy against consumer exploitation, finds herself at the center of controversy for selling her campaign’s donor list.

Politico called this a “fire sale” and termed it a betrayal of the trust and privacy of her supporters. A direct contradiction of her public stance against such practices. Porter’s campaign listed the donor contacts for sale without the explicit consent of the donors, a move criticized for potentially exposing these individuals to unsolicited contacts from other campaigns and scam PACs—precisely the types of entities Porter has vocally opposed.

The sale, priced starting at $.65 per donor, is aimed at bolstering the finances of her campaign for the U.S. Senate. This strategy has sparked a debate over the ethics of fundraising practices, with Porter’s actions seen as a departure from her previously established principles.

Every organization, every leader, every candidate needs to be certain that its practices match its principles.  Unlike the following:

  • Not only is the “Katie Porter for Senate” campaign selling its supporters’ contact info without their knowledge or consent, but it is also actively lying to them about the fact their contact info will be sold. The “Terms of Service and Privacy Policy” link on com specifies in all caps that “WE DO NOT SELL, RENT, LOAN, TRADE, LEASE OR OTHERWISE TRANSFER FOR PROFIT ANY PHONE NUMBERS OR PERSONAL INFORMATION COLLECTED OR RECEIVED THROUGH THE PROGRAM TO ANY THIRD PARTY.”
  • Porter has been a leader in the fight against SCAM PACs and has been an outspoken critic of deceptive campaign fundraising emails. By selling her campaign’s supporter list to countless other campaigns – and making clear that it’s OK for them to resell it after the Nov. 5 general election – Katie Porter for Senate is all but ensuring that its donors will be targeted by the exact same types of scams she is working to stop.
  • In an October 2023 letter, Rep. Porter took tax prep companies to task for sharing consumers’ data with Meta “without providing appropriate disclosures or obtaining taxpayer consent.”
  • In a December 2021 letter , Rep. Porter urged the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission to develop new regulations to better protect consumers’ data.
  • In an October 2019 hearing, Rep. Porter rightfully called out Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s failure to protect its customer’s data.

A November 2022 survey by Civic Shout found that Democratic and independent voters are fed up with receiving unsolicited emails and text messages from political campaigns, underscoring the risk of alienating supporters through aggressive fundraising tactics.

 I guess, as Grandma Craver said, “Everyone who talks about heaven ain’t going there.”

This controversy surrounding Porter’s fundraising list sale serves as a poignant reminder of the delicate balance between raising money and maintaining ethical standards in both fundraising and data/privacy practices.

Are we, in our eagerness to construct more robust fundraising vessels, inadvertently crafting our own shipwrecks?

The relentless pursuit of clicks, attention, and funds has pushed too many nonprofits and campaigns to adopt increasingly aggressive tactics. No doubt aimed at navigating the competitive landscape, these practices risk capsizing the very essence of giving and engagement. The “send more, make more” approach, driven by the engine of more and more, now teeters on the brink of diminishing returns, eroding donor trust, and fostering an environment rife with potential ethical and legal quandaries.

In the quest to be seen and heard in an overcrowded arena, our sector risks succumbing to the same pitfalls plaguing other industries: a relentless pursuit of short-term profit (or in this case, donations) at the expense of growth, values and mission.

This is not a call to abandon ship but rather to navigate with greater care. it’s time to chart a course that prioritizes ethical engagement, building donor loyalty and ensuring that in pursuit of more and more we don’t lose our way.

The true measure of success in fundraising goes beyond volumes of mail, clicks and conversions; it lies in our ability to inspire genuine support and make a lasting impact without compromising the donors’ values—or our own.

Roger