May 16, 2010; Source: Wall Street Journal | The next time you stay in a nonprofit hospital, your vital signs aren’t the only thing that might be undergoing a scan. According to the Wall Street Journal, some hospitals routinely check the assets of patients to see which might be good prospects to hit up for donations. The practice of taking a closer peek at who’s who isn’t limited to hospitals. Rather, thanks to a combination of improvements in technology and drops in costs, charities have many more ways to find out everything about you. As the newspaper notes, charities can “survey your salary history, scan your LinkedIn connections or use satellite images to eyeball the size of your swimming pool. If it’s really on the ball, the charity can even get an email alert when your stock holdings double.”
While the availability of donor research tools are no secret, certainly not to the fund-raising community, charities don’t go out of their way to advertise their data mining abilities. Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute for Philanthropy, says charities keep these practices to themselves because it “creeps a lot of people out.”
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Privacy and comfort issues aside, some are troubled by another practice of hospitals. By knowing who their most well-heeled or biggest donor prospects are, medical institutions can single these individuals out for preferential treatment. For example, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, allows donors and volunteers priority for appointments with specialists. San Diego’s Sharp HealthCare provides major donors with a card that has pager numbers for staffers. Among those who worry about currying favors with wealthy patients is Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He says that donors who bypass waiting lists are likely to find it hard to resist a funding solicitation during treatment and recovery.—Bruce Trachtenberg