4 Secrets your clients want you to keep is FREE courtesy of Nonprofit Consultant Zone
Back in the less sophisticated days of fundraising computer databases, I remember a donor record for “Ann E. Nonymous.” The problem was, Ann wasn’t consistent. One “Ann,” told us that if we dare mention her real name, she’d ruin us. Another “Ann” simply didn’t want her name on donor lists but was happy if we’d tell her friends.
Just like the definition of “anonymous” varies from donor to donor, so does “confidentiality” as defined by your client. The problem is that it becomes more complicated. Not only is it like the donor, where you have a spectrum of confidentiality, from “double-secret lockdown” to “oh, just don’t tell our old board chair,” there are certain pieces of information that an organization wants to be confidential, and others they don’t care about. What’s a nonprofit consultant to do?
To start, be circumspect. Think first before you discuss clients or their issues with just about anyone. Given your relationship with your client, you’ll know whether even talking in general, anonymous, terms about clients or their issues with colleagues and friends is appropriate. “Hey, Bob, I have a disease organization client who…” could be fine, unless for some reason the name of the client is given away in the circumstance you describe. And don’t think that the end of your client engagement ends your obligation for confidentiality – it probably doesn’t.
What are some of the areas where confidentiality applies?
1. Mission recipient contact – Social service and healthcare organizations and a few others are legally and ethically bound to keep their interactions with clients as confidential, and as their consultant, require you to do the same.
2. Organizational records – Your client has a right to keep their records private, like donor, billing and other records and reports.
3. Organizational processes – Once in a while I see something that covers “proprietary work product.” If it’s a process that they have established and you’re seeing it? No problem. If it’s the work product you produce for them as part of the contract? No problem. The issue comes when they claim that all you do for them to produce that work product, which may include processes you do for others when you produce a similar product for earlier or later clients. What I typically find is that this is boilerplate language cribbed from another organization or suggested by their attorney. Consider pushing back, or consult your attorney to see that you have it right.
4. Their name in your marketing. Some clients will want to prevent you from using their name in your future marketing. In my opinion, that’s pretty short-sighted of them. Chances are that you are well connected in the community, with other nonprofits and others who could be great resources for them, who only happen to know of your connection to them through your marketing. Even better, you can be their advocate. Besides, how did they find out you worked for organizations like them? Because another, similar nonprofit allowed you to use their name!
When it comes to confidentiality, privacy and being anonymous, make it a policy to ask your client, and your attorney, if there is any doubt. This is not an area where you need to get tied up when a minor misunderstanding blows up to something bigger.
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