Tag Archives: wealth

Thanks, Alastair

I have just had this lovely email from Alastair James, Senior Consultant at Global Philanthropic. He read my book, ‘How Philanthropy is Changing in Europe’ and wrote:

Dear Chris

I just wanted to say what a wonderful book you have written.

It is a fascinating volume, full of interesting and well-researched material, and I have learned a lot by reading it. You have approached the subject with the rigour of a true academic, but you have written it in a very engaging and accessible style.

I have come away with an overwhelmingly positive impression of philanthropy in Europe from reading your book, although you have also been very clear about the lack of information available in the sector. The fact that foundations are starting to be more open is a very good sign.

I also think that, in the current difficult climate, the book provides a lot of encouraging messages for fundraisers – not least the fact that fundraising has been going on for a long time in Europe, and will, for sure, continue to do so.

My warmest congratulations to you on this superb book.

Best wishes.

Alastair

Alastair James
Senior Consultant
Global Philanthropic
a.j@globalphilanthropic.com

 

Chris Carnie is the author of “How Philanthropy is Changing in Europe”, published by Policy Press. He writes in a personal capacity.


The Future of Philanthropy, in 1 Question

You are at a board meeting of your charity. Board member Jane mentions her friend Peter, and says he might be interested in making a donation. Peter, she says, is the owner of a large software company.

Peter, to be clear, is NOT A CURRENT DONOR. He has not opted in or opted out or opted for anything at your charity.

Back at the office you put Peter’s name into Google. It’s in your legitimate interests to do so, and Peter would expect you to do this.

Turns out that Peter’s business is based in Newcastle.

You are in London, so there is time and travel cost to consider if you are to visit him. You use Companies House to find out about Peter’s shareholding and the company’s profits. These figures help you estimate Peter’s gift capacity. Again, it’s legitimate for a charity to estimate the size of a potential donation before it decides to spend money on a visit to Newcastle.

At an invitation-only event on the 21st of February, the Information Commissioner’s staff will tell charities and the Fundraising Regulator whether or not they can do this search.

The future of philanthropy in the UK hangs on the ICO’s reply to this one question.

Can a prospect researcher do the search outlined above?

If the answer to the question is “No”, then high-value philanthropy in the UK will change dramatically.

It will no longer be possible to use public-domain information to identify or understand potential donors. Charities, universities, museums, hospitals and theatres will have to stop, immediately, all proactive forms of reaching out to new high-value supporters.

How will high-value philanthropists react? They will give less. When charities stop asking, people of wealth will stop giving, or give less and less often.This is not just an assertion – it is demonstrated by research. In “Richer Lives: why rich people give”, Theresa Lloyd and Beth Breeze report that 69% of rich donors give ‘If I am asked by someone I know and respect.’ Charities, from cancer research to the lifeboats, will have to adapt to a dramatic cut in their income.

Some philanthropists will respond by setting up their own foundations. We know from Factary’s New Trust Update that they are already doing this in some numbers. They will manage their own projects via these foundations, meaning less money for mainstream charities.

If the answer to the question is “No”, then the ICO is taking on not just the charity sector, but pretty much every business in the UK. Because every day hundreds of thousands of secretaries, assistants and marketing people do this exact search to check up on potential customers. Can that really be the ICO’s intent?

If the answer is “Yes”, then the ICO is affirming prospect research. We CAN continue to research, understand, and evaluate potential donors and, with permission, actual donors.

We will know the future of philanthropy in the UK on the 21st of February.


Chris Carnie is the author of “How Philanthropy is Changing in Europe”, published by Policy Press. He writes in a personal capacity.


In Defence of the Public Domain

A university, a museum, or a charity does not raise £10m or £50m or more by accident. An alumna did not wake up one morning thinking “I must give £1m to my alma mater.”

This happened because a dedicated group of professionals managed a process that led to the alumna being asked for a very large philanthropic gift.

At the heart of that process was, and is, the prospect research team. The team used – like we all do – public domain information to identify and understand potential supporters.

But now one government agency, the Information Commissioner’s Office, wants to stop us using public domain information. In the emotionally-worded press release that accompanied the penalties for the British Heart Foundation and RSPCA, the ICO says that “companies used other information from publically [sic]-available sources to investigate income, property values, lifestyle and even friendship circles.” ICO staff members at fundraising and research conferences throughout 2016 told us that the information on directors held by Companies House is compiled for one purpose (regulation of business) and therefore cannot be used for another (prospect research.)

So perhaps we cannot use public domain information to identify and understand potential supporters.

Purposes

But think for a moment.

Why do I have my profile in LinkedIn? What is my ‘purpose’? Is it just a marketing tool, showing potential clients what a clever chap I am? No! I had all sorts of purposes in mind when I created my profile in LinkedIn. I wanted to reassure clients that I was, and am, a decent person. I am proud of what I have done and wanted – sorry folks, this gets personal – to boast a wee bit about setting up Factary, about the books I have written and the languages I speak. I wanted access to the profiles of other people with whom I might work or even play. I wanted to explain who I am and how I got here – it’s cathartic. And I wanted a useful depository for my lifeline – to remind me of exactly when I went to school or which year I started in fundraising.

I had a whole variety of ‘purposes.’

Expectations

As a result, I have a very wide variety of ‘expectations.’ This word is important, because the ICO believes that “millions of people who give their time and money to benefit good causes will be saddened” by the news that charities targeted them for more money; in other words, this is about what people expect. With my profile in LinkedIn I expected that people would look at my personal story. I expected that Southampton Uni, my alma mater, would contact me about a donation (they did.) I expected that I would be networked to, and with (and indeed welcomed that opportunity.)

The person who has her biography in Who’s Who, or who gives a personal interview in the Times, or who is listed as the director of a company, or as the trustee of a charitable foundation has the same wide range of expectations.

The ‘purpose’ of a personal interview in the Times is to sell advertising space on the facing page of the newspaper; “All the papers that matter live off their advertisements,” said George Orwell, in Why I Write*.

But that is not the ‘purpose’ that the interviewee had in mind when she was approached by the journalist. Nor is it the ‘expectation’ of the interviewee. She knows, when she agrees to give the interview, that her warts-and-all will be exposed to public view. She expects that she will receive praise, opprobrium, investor pitches, car sales teams and an approach from a headhunter as the result of her interview.

The Public Domain

Information on company directors in Companies House – the Registrar of Companies for England and Wales – is made public for various purposes. The Registrar was created by The Joint Stock Companies Act of 1844. In the debate of the Bill that would create the Act (3rd July 1844), Mr Gladstone said “The principal object of the Bill was, that there should be established a public office, to which all parties soliciting to take part in Joint Stock Companies might repair, in order to know the real history of these companies.” Mr Gladstone was talking very clearly about corruption; “…it was most important that the Legislature should put a stop to the system that had been so long carried on of attaching the names of hon. Members, and men of importance and property, to schemes in order to entrap the unwary.”

So here again, at Companies House, we have a variety of purposes for information in the public domain. It is right and proper that prospect researchers use Companies House information to establish the “real history” of “men of importance and property”, and, 172 years after Mr Gladstone’s speech, of women of importance and property too.

All the universities that are engaged in raising funds, along with our theatres, museums and charities, manage a process that results in high-value philanthropy. At the heart of that managed process is prospect research. And alongside every prospect researcher is public domain information.

People in the public domain – in Who’s Who, or LinkedIn, the Times or Companies House – are there for a variety of ‘purposes.’ They expect that the information will be used in a variety of ways – including, yes, by people who will lead them into great philanthropic acts.

We prospect researchers do great works with public domain information. It is wholly legitimate that we use public domain information for this purpose. We must defend our right to do so.

Chris Carnie is the author of “How Philanthropy is Changing in Europe”, published by Policy Press in January 2017. He writes in a personal capacity.

*The fuller quote, given here is:

“Is the English press honest or dishonest? At normal times it is deeply dishonest. All the papers that matter live off their advertisements, and the advertisers exercise an indirect censorship over news.”


Annus Horribilis

2016 has been my personal annus horribilis, at least in the public domain. (Privately, I’m fine thanks.)

It has been the year when two of my working-life projects have fallen apart.

First, my life as a European was cut off at a stroke by England’s vote for Brexit.

And then as an early Christmas present, the Information Commissioner decided that more or less everything that I had dedicated my working life to doing – understanding philanthropists so that charities could work better with them – was illegal, immoral and subject to multi-thousand pound fines.

The Brexit decision is too political a story for this blog. Suffice it to say that when one choses as a UK citizen to live in another EU country, learn its languages, learn and enjoy its rich cultural traditions, and feel thoroughly welcome as an immigrant, it is physically painful to know that a cabal of alt-right Ministers in Westminster are determined to throw you out.

So let’s focus on the Information Commissioner’s announcement yesterday. We would expect the Commissioner to use cautious language. She does not. She piles right into the topic by claiming that ‘millions of people who give their time and money to benefit good causes will be saddened to learn that their generosity wasn’t enough.’

This is a clear example of evidence-based policy making. The Commissioner has evidence, we assume, that there are ‘millions of people’ who will be saddened that their generosity did not suffice. Given the paucity of information on donors in the UK, it would be so helpful if the Commissioner would share this data with the rest of us.

If the subjects gave their permission, of course.

Given that we are living in an age of austerity in which the ICO’s paymasters in government (of whichever colour) are cutting back on benefits, rights and payments, I would be utterly astonished if there were even ten donors, let alone millions, who would feel that their generosity was enough. It is never enough. Ask any of the homeless people in London if it is enough. Or the 960,000 people living in poverty in Scotland.

The Commissioner then applies the same broad brush approach to what she describes as ‘wealth screening.’ The language is purposefully vague and catches within its apparent scope almost all customer-focused, relationship-building, fundraising. It appears, on one reading of the statement, that it is somehow wrong to use information including ‘supporters’ names and addresses, dates of birth and the value and date of the last donation.’ It appears that to investigate ‘income, property values, lifestyle and even friendship circles,’ may be illegal, along with the ability to model ‘donors most likely to leave money in their wills.’

Adrian Beney has pointed out in an excellent blog that this is to do not with information or privacy, but our attitudes to money.

For me, it’s an Edwardian view of ‘charity.’ It’s a penny in an old man’s hat. Thanks guv’nor. Lord bless your little ones. It is about a one-way relationship, donor to ‘charity.’

There is a load of evidence (yes, actual evidence Commissioner) that this is not how donors want to relate to ‘charities’ (or, as we now call them, non-profits, or Social Purpose Organisations.)

Here is just one of dozens of research reports I could cite; ‘Donors respond to personalised communications from charities that they have a relationship with, and prompts from family, friends or colleagues.’ (source, Bagwell, Sally, Lucy de las Casas, Matt van Poortvliet, and Robb Abercrombie. ‘Money for Good UK: Understanding Donor Motivation and Behaviour’. London: New Philanthropy Capital, March 2013. http://www.thinknpc.org/publications/money-for-good-uk/., page 3).

And yet the Commissioner rails against non-profits that identify ‘friendship circles.’

The Commissioner has, either purposely or unwittingly, threatened the development of high-value philanthropy in the UK. By using this broad language, by focusing on an evidently outdated view of ‘charity’, and above all by fining organisations that are trying to build relationships with their supporters based on mutual understanding and knowledge, she has ensured that UK charities will step back, return to the door-knock and the ‘appeal’, never knowing (because the ICO bans such research) who is behind the door or receiving the letter.

This lack of research will drive a wrecking-ball through relationships between high-value philanthropists and non-profits. It is not coincidental that so many people of wealth are now establishing their own foundations; it is already hard enough to persuade them that they should build a relationship with an existing non-profit.

Thanks to the ICO, that job just become harder.

 

Chris Carnie is the author of ‘How Philanthropy is Changing in Europe‘, to be published by Policy Press in January 2017.


International Research – some Resources for RiF

At the Researchers in Fundraising Conference, 25th November 2016, I promised a list of the sources I mentioned. Here it is.

Bilanz 300 Die Riechsten
Type Magazine Article
URL www.bilanz.ch
Publication Bilanz
Date Annual
Language German
Abstract Annual rich list published by Swiss business and economics magazine.

CNMV – Informe anual de Remuneraciones de los Consejeros de las sociedades cotizadas
Type Report
URL http://www.cnmv.es/portal/Publicaciones/PublicacionesGN.aspx?id=46
Institution Comisión Nacional del Mercado de Valores
Language Spanish
Abstract Annual survey of salaries of company directors in quoted companies in Spain. Shows breakdown of average salaries, and is useful for estimating income.

FIN Association of Foundations in the Netherlands/ Vereniging van fondsen
Type Web Page
URL http://www.verenigingvanfondsen.nl/
Abstract FIN, the Vereniging van Fondsen in Nederland, is the association of leading Dutch foundations

Fondsenboek 2015 and Fondsendisk
Type Book
Author Sophie Duijts
Place Zutphen
Publisher Walburg Pers
ISBN 978-90-5730-987-8
Date 2015
Language Dutch
Abstract Directory of foundations in the Netherlands, including information on 737 foundations. €49.50 price.
# of Pages 448

Helen Brown Group
Type Web Page
URL http://www.helenbrowngroup.com/index.htm

Kamer van Koophandel
Type Web Page
URL www.kvk.nl
Abstract Legal register for all companies in the Netherlands. Includes company ownership information and accounts

Miljonair
Type Magazine
URL http://www.miljonair.nl
Language Dutch
Abstract Lifestyle magazine aimed at HNWIs in the Netherlands. Includes some profile interviews, and occasional features on philanthropy.

Moving Mainstream. The European Alternative Finance Benchmarking Report
Type Report
Author Robert Wardrop
Author Bryan Zhang
Author Raghavendra Rau
Author Mia Gray
URL http://www.jbs.cam.ac.uk/index.php?id=6481
Place Cambridge, UK
Pages 44
Date 02/2015
Institution University of Cambridge, Judge Business School
Language English
Abstract Includes details on crowdfunding, with data on growth, with peer-to-peer fundraising

Paperjam
Type Web Page
URL http://paperjam.lu/
Abstract Business website and magazine for Luxembourg. Publish an annual “Paperjam Guide” including a business directory and biographies of company leaders.

Portal de la Transparencia
Type Web Page
URL http://transparencia.gob.es/
Language Spanish
Abstract Spanish Government website showing structure, funcion, curricula and salaries of top civil servants.

SOCIETE.COM
Type Web Page
URL http://www.societe.com/
Accessed 05/09/2013, 16:03:03
Language French
Abstract Company information from the French Registre du Commerce

Transparente ANBI
Type Web Page
URL http://www.transparante-anbi.nl/ANBI/Home/2274
Abstract Listing of ANBI including foundations in the Netherlands, following the transparency law. Searchable by foundation name.

How Philanthropy is Changing in Europe.
Type Book
Author Christopher Carnie
URL http://policypress.co.uk/how-philanthropy-is-changing-in-europe
Place Bristol
Publisher Policy Press
ISBN 978-1-4473-3110-0
Date 01/18/2017
Language English
Abstract There is a new age of philanthropy in Europe – a €50 billion plus financial market. Changing attitudes to wealth, growing social need and innovations in finance are creating a revolution in how we give, aided and sometimes abetted by governments. Mapping the changes, Christopher Carnie focuses on high-value philanthropists – people and foundations as ‘major donors’ – investing or donating €25,000 upwards.


It Will Take a Researcher

It will take a researcher to wake up the fundraising community.

You.

Because it is time to wake up your fundraising colleagues to a new reality in philanthropy. A reality that is working its way through many of your major donors, your trust donors, your finance sector and bank donors, and even your government grants programme.

This is not some insidious virus, although it could eventually cause the extinction of some organisations. Its effects are dramatic on the organisations and people it touches, showing then a new reality, new priorities and a new and different way of reaching their goals.

This is Venture Philanthropy and Social Impact Investment (VP/SI), the subject of last week’s EVPA conference in Paris. The conference confirmed the coming of age of VP/SI, with a mix of leading foundations, banks, philanthropists and a growing band of intermediaries working in the “financial ecosystem” around this mix of investment and philanthropy.

The banks and advisors are very excited by this new market. They like the mixture of social change and financial tools, and they are building teams to help their HNWI and UHNWI clients work in this area; I met a seven-person team from one French bank including account managers, due diligence staff and social investment experts.

Welcome to your newest competitors. They are well-resourced, hungry for new business, have loads of great customer relationship data, and have a dizzyingly good contact book.

Your HNWI and UHNWI donors and prospects, along with trusts and foundations that you work with, are being courted now, by the banks. If your fundraising colleagues are not aware of this trend then maybe it’s time for you to give them a wake-up call.

Doing that could be easier than you think.

Transparency

One of the remarkable (at least in Europe) characteristics of this market is its transparency. I chaired a session on failures in philanthropic investments, and 50 people in the room ‘fessed up to one or other bad decision, and then shared the leanings from their failure.

For prospect researchers the new transparency means that there is an increasing volume of well-researched information on the sector.

Start with the EVPA website, where there are high-quality research reports, and a full list of members (Factary is an Associate Member). Then check the HNWl offerings of banks such as JP Morgan, Credit Suisse or Rabobank. Next take a look at foundations operating in this space. Esmée Fairbain Foundation or Impetus /PEF in the UK, Fondazione CRT and Fondazione Cariplo in Italy, Noaber in the Netherlands… The list is growing, and in Europe alone EVPA has 200 members. In Asia the growth is even faster and EVPA’s sister there, AVPN now has 300 members.

Then look at how organisations, many of them small social change non-profits, have taken up the challenge of working with these demanding but exciting investors. The EVPA website includes case studies and examples. Check out Factary’s reports on the sector.

And finally talk to your colleagues. Tell them that there is a significant new movement in high-value philanthropy. It’s a movement of people who want to invest, not give. Who want to participate, truly participate, in your work; these people do not want a packaged project on a gilt plate. Tell them that in the view of many VPs, traditional fundraising is a costly, inefficient way of winning funds. And tell them that this will take time but that it could transform your organisation and, more importantly, transform the lives of the people you work with.

But do, please, tell them. Because no-one else is. Amongst the 500 delegates at the EVPA conference I counted just three fundraisers. Three! In a hall full of philanthropists.

Your research could help your colleague to be number four. Do it, now.

 

 

Chris Carnie’s latest book – How Philanthropy is Changing in Europe – is to be published in January 2017 by Policy Press: pre-order your copy here!


How Much Can She Give? Some maths, from Spain

Prospect research in continental Europe is tough. You spend your life saying ‘if only we had [fill in name of favourite source]’.

There are rays of light, as Europe gradually opens up to transparency, but they are rarely truly illuminating.

The hardest part is to try to estimate Gift Capacity. At Factary we define Gift Capacity as ‘the largest gift that an individual could give to any cause in ideal circumstances, over three years.’ By defining it that way we are saying, as objectively as one can in the murky world of money, that this is the best of the best, the biggest possible gift. Not ‘how much she will give to my charity‘, but how much she can give. And not ‘how much can she give this year?‘, but an amount spread over a period of three years.

How much she actually donates to your cause depends on many factors, including the strength of the connection to her, her positive and negative feelings about your organisation and, of course, how much you ask for.

But here in Catalonia and Spain, even the starting point for Gift Capacity research is difficult. So it is a Red Letter Day when some data on wealth appears.

The annual publication on directors’ salaries by the Stock Exchange Control Committee (CNMV, www.cnmv.es) is just such a day. The 2015 report was published last week.

In part the interest is vicarious. Learning that the Executive Chairs of Ibex-35 companies are now earning an average of €3.45 million is galling when you are a prospect researcher in Spain (average salary unknown but unlikely to be more than €25,000, and mostly under €20k); those Chairs earn more in three days than you earn in a year of labour.

But the data – the full report is here – does help us. Non-Exec directors are now earning an average of €763,000, up a staggering 48% on the previous year (clearly these are hard-working men and women), and the average across all quoted company directors is €344,000, up a mere 8.2% on the previous year.

So now you have an idea of how much she is earning, can you reliably calculate gift capacity?

Unfortunately, there is very little data to help you do that.

A 2006 study of tax returns [1] showed that people earning more than €600,000 per annum were giving an average of €3,268 – meaning 0.54% of their income. This was their declared giving on their declared income, and both figures are likely to be conservative.

So at your most cautious you could say that the Executive Chair of an Ibex-35 company might give 0.54% of €3.45 million, which would be €18,760.

That’s a start!

1. Sánchez Pérez, Elisa. ‘Evolución y situación actual de la filantropía en España’. In La Filantropía: Tendencias y Perspectivas, 125–46. Papeles de la Fundación de Estudios Financieros 26. Madrid, 2008. http://www.fef.es/new/publicaciones/papeles-de-la-fundacion/item/189-26-la-filantrop%C3%ADa-tendencias-y-perspectivas.html.


A Window on Philanthropy in Italy

Another window on high-value philanthropy just opened in Italy thanks to UNHCR and Gruppo Kairos, a private banking and wealth management firm. In March, UNHCR published the results of a survey carried out with the finance firm. I am grateful to Giovanna Li Perni at UNHCR for a copy of the report, and for her presentation of the results at last week’s Festival del Fundraising.

During October-November 2015 Kairos asked its HNWI clients to complete a questionnaire; 91 of them, 44% women, 56% men, did so. This is not therefore a balanced representative sample of people of wealth in Italy (so we cannot safely extrapolate the results) but does give us at least some insight into how this group of people reacted. The group included a wide range of wealth levels from €1m to more than €30m, and a spread of age groups with, as you would expect, a bias toward middle age and older (85% were aged 46 or over). Almost all of the group were donors – 91% had made at least one donation to a social cause in the previous year (against 26% of the general population). The percentage who gave rose with increasing wealth, reaching 100% of people with wealth over €30m.

When asked about their largest gift during 2015 to any one organisation, most reported €5,000, with 73% of women giving at this level and 49% of men. Older people tended to give more, so 22% of the over-65s gave €25,000 and 11% gave €50,000. Of course these people were giving to a number of organisations, so 30% of this older group gave away a total of between €50,000-€100,000 in 2015.

Asked about the causes to which they made their largest gift in 2015, 21% chose scientific or medical research, 19% favoured children’s causes, and 16% poverty in Italy. Importantly for UNHCR, 10% chose help and protection for refugees as their top cause. 62% gave principally to causes in Italy.

Why did they give?

More than half (52%) said that their main reason for giving was because they felt privileged. 26% said it was giving made them feel useful. Interestingly just 4% of donors said that they gave because of their religious values, with 9% saying that they want to change things, to make a difference and the same percentage saying that they gave to continue a family tradition of philanthropy.

In choosing a non-profit, two major reasons stood out; the cause, and ‘transparency of the organisation and exhaustive documentation on results.’ This focus on transparency is interesting and is part of a trend we can see across Europe toward greater transparency in the non-profit sector. New laws (for example, in Holland) and new organisations (for example Fundación Lealtad in Spain) are encouraging this trend toward transparency.

Italians will tell you that business in the country is based on personal connections, and it seems that this might be true for philanthropy also. It is certainly the case for this group of philanthropists, who say that the most common channel for hearing about the organisations they support is via their personal network (28% of respondents, the largest single group), while 15% say that they chose the cause because they knew the leader of the organisation in person.

What does this tell us about strategy?

The information in this report is gathered from the clients of one bank, so we should be careful about extrapolating from it. But given that there is almost nothing else available on HNWI philanthropy in the Italian market, we might at least test some conclusions.

The research should help push up the pricing of ‘major donor’ programmes. Individuals responding to this survey have made gifts in excess of €100,000 to single organisations, and 20% of them have made gifts of €25,000 or more. We can even venture a Gift Capacity calculation for this group, defining ‘Gift Capacity’ as ‘The largest total gift that one person could give to any one cause, in ideal conditions, over five years’ (see my previous blog on this topic.) Five of the respondents with net worth of €5-€10m made gifts to single organisations of €100,000 or more, between 1% and 2% of their net worth.

The research makes the case for prospect research. It shows that personal networks are the means by which these HNWIs have been reached by their non-profit partners, and that these networks are their primary source of information. Prospect research has the tools to identify personal networks. Sadly, the number of prospect researchers in Italy is still in single figures.

This research was carried out in partnership with Gruppo Kairos, and we have here a strategic clue that a number of NGOs in Europe are starting to follow up. Private wealth managers and bankers are increasingly interested in philanthropy, and we would all do well to focus more attention on this key group of intermediaries.

This is the second year in which UNHCR and Kairos have carried out this study, and the plan is to continue the annual series; another opening window on the world of HNWI philanthropy in Europe.


The Edge of Privacy

We live in interesting times, privately.

Confusing, contradictory times, when lawmakers require us to lock-down data whilst revealing their intimate thoughts on Twitter. Times when it is OK for a dominant search engine to track our billions of tiny searches, for our wrist watch to measure and transmit our sleeping and walking in the name of fitness. Times when we choose to tell our life stories in Facebook.

And times when our private underbelly is revealed to the world. Two stories have exposed privacy in all its moral complexity; the Panama Papers, and the Ashley Madison data breach. Both have been stories about activities that are legal (being a director of an offshore company and having an affair, or both simultaneously, are not illegal activities.) Both are about normal immorality.

Both stories are to some degree about power. The Panama Papers show us that the powerful are willing to mix their businesses with drug dealers, dictators and money launderers in order to avoid taxes. If you need to be reminded about just how powerful these people are, bear in mind that just one person was prosecuted out of the 1,000 UK names released in the last big tax-related data breach; the Falciani/HSBC affair [Source: ‘Tax Havens don’t need reform, but abolition’, Richard Brooks, Guardian Weekly, 8/4/16]

Both the Panama Papers and Ashley Madison are about relationships, a subject at the heart of prospect research. John knows Jane because both of them invest in the same company in the British Virgin Islands. And John knows Mary because he signed up for Ashley Madison and she’s his new friend.

John is a donor to your charity. He’s in your database, and he has turned up in a screening (carried out, naturally, by Factary). We’ve spotted him in Companies House, a public domain data set, as a director of an investment firm in Holborn, so we have flagged him as interesting.

When you transferred the data to Factary you took the utmost care over the process, using our sFTP (secure FTP) site and thus ensuring that John’s details were encrypted and safe. You checked that the computer link was over a HTTPS network. You made sure that the data would be stored in servers in the UK, in a physically safe and secured building. You did that because you are a conscientious prospect researcher, using the best practice required by the law.

John did not take the same care. When he invested in the British Virgin Islands via Mossack Fonseca he did so through the open web, by email. He joined Ashley Madison the same way, signing up on their website; no encryption, no security. Worse, he was voluntarily exporting his data outside of the protection offered by the European Union through its Data Directive.

And now John has a photograph of him and Mary together at a work conference and he’s posted it on his Facebook page.

Where is the edge of privacy?

Is it the frontier between long standing public domain records and the new stuff, between Companies House and Facebook, for example?

Is it between voluntarily released information and stuff that is Wikileaked?

Is it between Victorian morality and modern – between a marriage notice in the Telegraph, and Ashley Madison?

Above all, is it where people of power dictate it should be? So that we are allowed to see the company directorships of the little people, but cannot see into the murky world of British Virgin Islands connections? Or into the equally dark corners of political connection and patronage?

This is where we are, like it or not, in prospect research. Prospect researchers live on the edge of privacy, using personal information that is in the public domain, for public good. We research John Doe in order to help our fundraising colleagues reach out to him for a donation that will benefit a poor person, or a scholarship kid, or an eye-opening cultural event.

But the power of research comes with a responsibility; it is our profession that must lead the debates on power and privacy, on public domain and private.

Thank goodness it is us, because prospect researchers have a special moral compass. We have chosen to work for causes we believe in, to make sacrifices (anyone want to talk about pay rates for researchers?) for something we believe to be right and good. We have chosen not to sit in the glory seat in fundraising; we are clearly not in this for vanity or fame. We know the value of information, and we have seen the intimacies and the inanities that people are willing to share on the web. We chose every day between information that is right and relevant, and rubbish.

Prospect researchers are the best placed people in the non-profit sector to describe where a private life becomes public.

But we had better get out there and get talking; our donors, our colleagues and our organisations need our guidance as we walk, together, along the edge of privacy.


Measuring the Immeasurable

We prospect researchers say it all the time. But I’m not sure that our fundraising colleagues really get it.

 

It’s immeasurable. No, we cannot give you a precise figure.

 

An individual’s wealth is a private affair. Just how private is being made clear by the Panama Papers. Here we can see how people from footballers to political leaders hide their wealth and their income from public view. These are just the types of people that we prospect researchers are asked to analyse and measure; what is her wealth, and what is her gift capacity?

 

Bear in mind that Mossack Fonseca is described as Panama’s fourth largest firm in this offshore business. The Legal 500 lists five more leading firms operating in this sector in Panama. There are hundreds more in Panama, and more in the British Virgin Islands, Cayman, Gibraltar and any number of other fiscal watering holes. We are seeing, even with the 2.9 terabytes of information from Panama, only a tiny slice of the full picture.

 

The OECD reports that 27 of the 34 OECD members “store or require insufficient beneficial ownership information for legal persons, and no country is fully compliant with the beneficial ownership recommendations for legal arrangements.” In other words, as campaigners such as Andy Wightman have shown in his books on land ownership in Scotland, we cannot know who owns companies or who controls trusts.

 

The UK is rolling out regulations that will expose some of this – although information on the control of trusts (not the charitable sort, these are legal trusts) will only be available to ‘competent authorities.’ A grey phrase that, we can assume, excludes the, er, incompetent public. Business shareholdings of 25% or more will mean a declaration of beneficial ownership. It is worth noting that many of the schemes outlined in the Panama Papers involve small but valuable shareholdings. As Jake Hayman has already noted in Forbes, this is relevant to philanthropy.

 

The Panama Papers have many implications for prospect researchers. They are another mine of information – you will have to decide for yourself whether this is good practice, or not – on wealth. They remind us that we must be cautious with our estimates of wealth and gift capacity. And they demonstrate that our due diligence is less than comprehensive; if we cannot know who controls a business that wants to donate to us, or we cannot say  which companies Samantha Supporter controls, then how can we measure whether she meets our due diligence requirement?

 

I suggest sticking this version of The Panama Papers on the door of the Prospect Research office in your organisation:

1. No, we can’t tell you how wealthy she is
2. No, we can’t tell you who owns that property
3. Don’t expect due diligence to be really diligent. We’ll do our best, but don’t ask us to hack any more Panama lawyers.