The Prospect of Power

The Researchers in Fundraising conference this week in London feels like a milestone in our profession – the arrival of a real community of professionals.

There were signals everywhere that we are a real profession. We, the community, have our networks – I saw lots of ‘Hello again! How are you?’s. We have an emerging group of personalities – Martin Mina (Action on Hearing Loss) is the personification of the funny-but-with-a-message presenter. We have our academics – Dr Beth Breeze (University of Kent) continues to uncover the emotional underwiring that supports philanthropy and fundraising. We have international appeal, with Helen Brown (Helen Brown Group) and Gerry Lawless (iWave) flying all the way across the Atlantic to join us.

We have suppliers anxious to win our business and therefore competing (this is normal and healthy) to innovate for our sector. We have media – social media – as conference attendees Tweeted #RIFConf2014 to the world. We even have the beginnings of politics, the politics of women and women’s rights in a workplace where too many bosses (mea culpa) are still men, celebrated by Beth Breeze in her sense of enjoyment at a conference audience that was mainly female.

And we have the intellectual and ethical challenges that define a real profession, personified in Karl Newton of LSE with his intimate description of the Gaddafi incident.

So what’s missing? At the conference the missing ingredient, reported again and again by researchers, was power. They didn’t use that word. What they said was ‘I just can’t get my boss to take research seriously’, or ‘I couldn’t get the budget’, or ‘My boss wrote our policy and I can’t get him to change it.’

Power, and the lack of it, is not a new topic at RiF. But now that we have a real, fully-fledged profession the lack of it is becoming more painful. We need the power to influence our fundraising colleagues. We need the power to write strategy, manage people and influence policy in the fundraising community. We need the power to set budgets, hire and fire. We need the power to commission research, development and innovation in our field. With the Sword of Damocles of new EU data protection legislation hanging over us, we need the power to influence legislation.

We need power, and we need it now.

We know how power works. We research it all the time. It is linked to circles of influence, to people with a strong voice, to a community united behind one or two clear ideas simply expressed.

We don’t have to call it that. We can call it “voice” , or “influence” or “a seat at the high table.” We can be subtle about winning power or we can be loud and proud. We can fight or argue, persuade or hint.

We need friends high up in the non-profit trees. The Chief executive of a brand-name national charity who ‘gets’ research. The MPs and MEPs who used to work in nonprofits, who befriend research. Senior staff at the Institute of Fundraising. We need to find these people (ha! easy for us prospect researchers!) We need to cultivate them and we need to persuade them with one or two clear simple messages. And then, like good fundraisers, we need to steward them.

We can use the power of research. We can do this.

An Open Letter to the Information Commissioner

Dear Mr Graham

It must be tough being the Information Commissioner today. This morning’s newspaper will be a crumpled mess on your breakfast table after you read more of the revealing allegations from Edward Snowden. The Government that pays you to keep our private stuff private has also been paying the wages of the spooks at GCHQ who are, apparently, listening in to everything we send or hear.

It’s a classic State job creation scheme; GCHQ dig the holes and you cover them over.

This is all horribly relevant to prospect research, because we researchers live in the legal and moral minefield of personal privacy. Snowden’s allegations change the moral game.

If we are to believe Mr Snowden then the Government has been merrily breaking the spirit of the law. By plugging a USB into the transatlantic fibre-optic cable they are listening to much of what we say and do, most of it private. They must be storing terabytes of personal stuff including an email to my son in the USA about his shopping habits, or the note I sent a friend about her cooking (it was delicious, Martha). In amongst the banalities there will be stuff about race, politics, religion, trades unions, health, sex and crime – the “sensitive personal data” that the European Data Directive has tried to keep properly private. This is all being gathered into the State apparatus for the “greater good.”

Imagine that I were to include a little sensitive personal data in a prospect profile, in contravention of the European Data Directive. For example that a prospect was reported to have had cancer, or malaria, or to have a prosthetic limb. I would be breaking the law, but – given that the State must be collecting this stuff too, could you really, morally, claim, Mr Graham, that I had done wrong?

And then there are the Terrible Twins – Google and Facebook. These two, according to Mr Snowden, have been knowingly handing over to the US Government our search habits, our locations, our friends and our connections.

So if I were to gather some personal stuff about a prospect from her Facebook page and pop it into a profile, could you really, morally claim, Mr Graham, that I had done wrong?

To rub salt in your wounds these companies have been doing this while manipulating our Governments’ tax system in their favour. You, Mr Graham, have been doubly duped. You have (massively) failed to protect our personal data. And your 2012-13 grant-in-aid from the Ministry of Justice was cut…because your paymasters have not been taxing the same Terrible Twins.

The moral justification that allows the State to gather and hold this personal information is the “greater good” of public security; the State collects this data to protect us citizens from the bad guys. A greater good that, if Mr Snowden’s allegations are correct, overrides our laws.

But I have a greater “greater good.” My greater, greater good is to raise the money to feed the starving, to send them to school, to build their hospitals and to show them the beauty of the arts. The greater, greater good of philanthropy.

Does my greater, greater good also override the law?

So if I were to break the law by failing to protect a prospect’s personal data, just as you have failed to protect ours, could you really, morally, claim Mr Graham that I had done wrong?

Prospect researchers protect prospects’ personal information because we are ethical people. We believe that it is right that personal privacy should be protected. We work on the moral and ethical frontier of personal data, taking decisions every day about whether to pass on information to our fundraising colleagues, or to press “Delete.” Yes, the law provides some framework, but it is our moral and ethical belief which provides the foundation.

We will continue to do that – to guard personal information, to respect privacy. But the Snowden allegations have undermined the whole legal framework for data protection. They have made your job impossible.

It must be very tough, being the Information Commissioner today.

Yours sincerely

Chris Carnie