painted sign that says "info"

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Imagine you are on the board of a small nonprofit organization. You’re having lunch with a friend who happens to be in charge of outreach for another small nonprofit. He asks you if your organization would be willing to share its donor list with his organization. It’s a newer nonprofit and has had trouble gaining fundraising traction. 

You can already think of a few reasons this seems like a bad idea. First, the two organizations have different causes, and just because your donors donate to your organization, there’s no reason to assume they’ll care about your friend’s. Secondly, your donors might be upset if they learn why they’re suddenly getting unsolicited emails, calls, and mailers from this other nonprofit. You might lose donors. But is this sharing of donor contact information illegal?

Nonprofit organizations often rely on the generosity of donors and volunteers to support their cause. In order to effectively communicate with these individuals, nonprofits often collect contact information, including phone numbers. But can nonprofits share these phone number lists with other organizations? In this article, we will explore the legality and ethical considerations of sharing phone number lists among nonprofits.

The Importance of Contact Information for Nonprofits

scrabble tiles that spell "contact"

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Before we dive into the topic of sharing donor lists, let’s first understand why contact information is important for nonprofits. Nonprofits rely on donations and volunteers to carry out their mission and achieve their goals. In order to reach out to potential donors and volunteers, nonprofits need to have their contact information.

  • Phone numbers are a valuable form of contact information as they allow for direct communication with individuals. This can be especially useful for urgent matters or time-sensitive campaigns. Additionally, phone numbers can also be used for fundraising efforts, such as sending out text messages for donation requests.
  • Email addresses are easy to send fundraising requests, thank you messages, and other updates to donors en masse. This newer form of communication can bring people to your donation page with the click of a button, and it can be automated to save your organization time and resources.
  • Mailing addresses of donors, or potential donors, can help you reach people who may not otherwise be very technologically savvy. Moreover, the imagery you can use in mailers and fliers can be very visually compelling, and the power of a handwritten thank you note cannot be underestimated.

Besides these avenues of contact, donor phone numbers and zip codes can tell you something about who they are, and perhaps even hint at their income bracket. This type of data analysis can be very valuable the larger your donor pool grows.

The Legalities of Sharing Donor Contact Information

There are a few federal laws that affect donor contact information and data privacy, but mostly (so far), there is more individual state legislation on this topic.

Federal Laws

Massachusetts law books

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There are a number of federal modern privacy laws that can affect nonprofit communications, including the FTC Act, GLBA, and HIPAA, to name a few. However, the one that most clearly pertains to the idea of sharing donor information is the TCPA.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA)

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is a federal law that regulates telemarketing calls, text messages, and faxes. It was enacted in 1991 to protect consumers from unwanted and intrusive communications.

Under the TCPA, organizations are required to obtain prior express written consent from individuals before making telemarketing calls or sending text messages. This means that nonprofits cannot share phone number lists with other organizations without the explicit consent of the individuals whose numbers are on the list.

State Laws

Some states offer exceptions to their privacy laws to nonprofits. However, you have to take care to understand how each state’s legislation defines “nonprofit.” Where a 501(c)(3) might qualify, a 501(c)(4) might not. Additionally, if your nonprofit is large enough to operate in multiple states, it’s probably in your best interest to comply with the most stringent state’s laws, in order to keep your operations clear to everyone in the organization.

Wagenmaker & Oberly Law has a great breakdown of different states that might offer exemptions (as of time of publication in January 2024).

Ethical Considerations of Sharing Donor Information

While sharing phone number, email, and address lists may be legal in certain circumstances, nonprofits should also consider the ethical implications of doing so. Nonprofits have a responsibility to protect the privacy of their donors and volunteers, and sharing their contact information without their consent may be seen as a breach of trust.

Moreover, sharing donor lists may result in individuals receiving unwanted communications from organizations they are not familiar with. This can lead to frustration and annoyance, and may even damage the reputation of the nonprofit that shared the list.

Alternatives to Sharing Donor Lists

typewriter with paper that ways "sharing"

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Instead of sharing phone number lists, nonprofits can explore alternative methods of communication with their donors and volunteers. These methods include:


One effective method is to collaborate with other nonprofits on joint campaigns or events. This allows for cross-promotion and can introduce each organization to a new audience without compromising the privacy of supporters. 

Social Media

Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, can also be used by nonprofits to reach out to their supporters. These platforms allow for direct messaging and can be a great way to engage with donors and volunteers.

Online Forms

Nonprofits can also use online forms to collect contact information from individuals. These forms can be embedded on the organization’s website and/or shared through social media. By using online forms, nonprofits can ensure that individuals are providing their contact information voluntarily and with their consent.

Data Privacy Best Practices for Nonprofits 

Even though your state might not have any laws prohibiting the sharing of donor information (outside of the phone numbers protected by the TCPA), it is almost certainly in your best interest to avoid sharing donor information with other nonprofits, no matter how much you trust them or how worthy their cause. Here are a few reasons why you should think now about donor’s data privacy:

  • Be ahead of the game: Laws on this topic are changing quickly. Privacy laws are being updated all the time, both in the US and globally. It is easier to make slow changes now in how you collect and store donor data than to have to react rapidly to new and stricter legislation
  • Be consistent: Especially if your organization operates in multiple states, you should adhere to the stricter state’s laws all the time, to avoid confusion within your organization. Moreover, if you, an exempt organization, partner with non-exempt organizations, you’ll need to ensure that any data-sharing you do doesn’t put them at risk.
  • Keep the trust: Nonprofits rely on donors, typically repeat donors, for consistent sources of funds. No matter how unlikely, the chance that important donors might discover you shared (or worse, sold) their information without their consent is not worth the risk. The damage to your relationship with these important donors, not to mention your organization’s reputation, could be catastrophic to your cause.

One of the benefits of using our platform is you gain a new channel through which to gather donor information. We make it simple and secure to collect and save your bidders’ contact information.

Share Other Information

Think back to our story at the beginning: instead of sharing your donor’s information with your friend, consider what else you can share. Are there certain types of fundraisers you know have seen success with your shared audiences? Can you audit their website and other channels with them to make sure that donating is as easy as possible? Are there local events, organizations, or sponsors that you can tell your friend about? Perhaps you can share anonymized donor data. The benefit of a large donor database is you can start to see demographic data that can help you profile and target potential donors. There is a lot of expertise you can share with each other without compromising your donor lists.

While it may be legal for nonprofits to share donor contact lists with other organizations in certain circumstances, it is important to consider the ethical implications of doing so. Nonprofits should always obtain consent from individuals before sharing their contact information and should follow best practices to ensure compliance with laws and maintain the trust of their supporters. By exploring alternative methods of communication and thinking ahead about data privacy, nonprofits can effectively reach out to their donors and volunteers without the need for sharing donor information.