Ask the Ethicist: Dos and Don’ts of Salesforce Chatter

Dear Ethicist,

My organization is in the process of converting to Salesforce and our implementation partner just mentioned the chatter function; it’s basically a way to “talk” about a record internally—prospect, donor, gift, proposal, etc.—and how it gets attached to the record being referenced. Chatter is not “reportable” information in that the text doesn’t pull into any reports, but the log of the conversation does remain attached to the record. Per many organizations’ confidentiality and ethics policies (see Apra’s Donor Bill of Rights, for example), donors have a right to request copies of their records at any time.

Would chatter logs be under the purview of what a donor could request to see, and if so, how should we advise folks in advancement services regarding what should or shouldn’t be included in “chatter code of conduct,” or chatiquette as I believe it is known?

Chatty Kathy


Dear Chatty Kathy,

Something to always keep in mind is that only publicly available information and/or information that a donor has told you directly should be entered into the database. Thinking the chatter log falls outside of this realm could lead to trouble; if your organization receives record requests every so often, you might consider playing it safe and turning the function off. Assure that your team is well trained and understands that, although the chatter function might seem like a place for casual conversation, it should be treated no differently than other more formal channels in your office. They must be mindful of the language they use when communicating or documenting information in this way about donors and prospects with others across the organization.

The moral of this story is that a chatter log is a bit like contact reports: You shouldn’t chat about anything that you wouldn’t want the donor to see. For example, don’t say, “Prospect is three sheets to the wind by 1 p.m. every day.” Instead you would say, “It’s best to schedule meetings with this prospect in the morning.” Sometimes, however, the chatter log may be the only good place to document the info, so it can serve that purpose, but it should definitely not be used for hearsay or very personal information about the donor (including health diagnoses or other “chatter” that could violate HIPAA). As always, please consult with your organization’s legal counsel.


Get more tools and information from Apra's Ethics and Professional Standards resources page.

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