Ask the Ethicist: Is Prospect Research 'Creepy'?

Dear Ethicist,

With all the news focused on GDPR, Cambridge Analytica and data protection, I've noticed a lot of people questioning the value and integrity of prospect research. A fundraiser recently said prospect research was “creepy” and compared what we do to stalking. I've even heard some of my prospect research colleagues begin to question what we do for a living.

I love our profession and don't think it's creepy or stalking or violates data privacy. How can I convince folks that prospect research is valuable, ethical and not at all creepy?

Responsible Researcher

Dear Responsible Researcher,

If a fundraiser thinks something is “creepy,” ask them for clarification on what they find objectionable. It could be they don't have all the information about what we do. It would be the perfect opportunity to teach the fundraiser more about prospect research, and a chance to build a closer relationship with that fundraiser.

In order to answer any questions, you should get as much information as possible. We are researchers, after all! Check out Apra's Ethics and Professional Standards page to see if your organization's practices align with the ethical guidelines of our profession. Be sure to check out the Ethics Toolkit. The Ethics & Compliance Committee regularly updates the Toolkit with best practices, examples and tons of links to resources.

You also want to make sure your organization's prospect research practices are in line with your local, state and national laws. There are some links in the Ethics Toolkit regarding different laws that affect prospect research. However, if you have any questions about the legality of a practice, consult with your organization’s legal counsel.

The Ethicist

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