Churches Data Mining for Net Worth?

I have heard that some churches now employ data mining software on their websites to determine parishioners net worth and presumably attempt to get more money from them. Perhaps it works something like this:

Whether a patient comes in for a gall bladder operation or to have a baby, the routine remains the same for staff at Sharp HealthCare hospitals in San Diego. The front desk checks insurance records to make sure the bills get paid on time. Nurses take vitals and tag their charges with a bar-coded wristband that helps them avoid treatment snafus. And behind the scenes, the fund-raising staff runs scans on the assets of each patient. The goal? To find out whether they re megarich, wealthy or merely comfortable.

While the folks checking in don t know it, the nonprofit hospital chain is hunting for prospective donors. Armed with powerful data-mining software, they screen hundreds of admissions records each morning to find a handful of wealthy patients who ve shown prior interest in the hospital. Those who make the cut may enjoy a bedside visit from a patient relations director who offers concierge services. Extra pillow? Free parking passes for visiting friends? The director will make it happen. It s all about building a relationship at the point of service, says foundation CEO Bill Littlejohn, and it has proven to be effective: We ve gotten many letters and gifts from people who said, It was so nice you stopped by.

When your favorite nonprofit isn t busy saving the whales, chances are it s making a serious behind-the-scenes effort to know you better and using increasingly sophisticated technology to do so. Whether it s the local museum or an international relief group, a charity s prospect-research staff can survey your salary history, scan your LinkedIn connections or even use satellite images to eyeball the size of your swimming pool. And if it s really on the ball, it s keeping better tabs on your financial life than you are. Should your stock holdings double, your friendly fund-raiser can get an e-mail alert prompting her to make an impromptu call.

See the rest here.

Predictive analytics the science of identifying and cultivating new donors by analyzing characteristics of existing donors has become indispensable to many nonprofits. It helps them determine who will send a $100 check at Christmas and who might give $50 million for the new memorial wing. The patterns that emerge can be surprising. Lawrence Henze, managing director of Target Analytics, a Blackbaud firm, learned that liberal arts majors are more likely than business grads to remember their alma mater in their will. And when nonprofits add commercial data to the mix, even finer patterns emerge. Don Austin, analytics director at infoGroup Nonprofit, says folks who donate to food banks are more likely to live in an apartment, carry credit card debt and play the stock market.

Will churches treat these prospective targets better than the average parishioner? Hospitals do:

Aggressive fund-raising has become standard procedure at hospitals, clinics and even hospices, as medical institutions try to make up for higher costs and dwindling insurance reimbursements. No one tracks the statistics, but the practice of screening admission records to find rich patients is pretty common, says Kathy Renzetti, spokesperson for the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy. And once the hospital determines you re a VIP, the perks roll in. At Penn, there are 1,200 donors and volunteers who get bumped to the front of the line for appointments with specialists and get special assistance with billing mix-ups. At San Diego s Sharp HealthCare, major donors receive a card printed with staffers pager numbers, to ensure they receive top service around the clock.

Here’s an example of this software: DonorScope. How on earth can this be squared with the Scripture?

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
(James 2:1-7 ESV)

2 thoughts on “Churches Data Mining for Net Worth?”

  1. Yow. It is frightening to think about that coming to churches. Unfortunately, it seems that our culture’s churches often don’t have a good cultural bulwark against these things, and are susceptible to imitation.

    I can see a guy with a Power Point (or maybe a Prezi) presenting this to a church meeting and saying, “Leading nonprofit institutions are using these tools…”

    1. Your PowerPoint example sounds very plausible! I think churches should now explicitly put statements on their website that they do *not* engage in this greedy practice.

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