When nonprofit organization United Farm Workers had its mailing list appended with religious data, it never expected that information to be printed on mailing labels when the file was rented or exchanged with fellow nonprofits. But that's what happened because of what the nonprofit called a service bureau error.
The service bureau is Triplex Direct Marketing, Novato, CA, which was acquired by Omaha, NE-based infoUSA's Donnelley Marketing Group in April. Donnelley appended the religion selects to the file in October, said UFW spokesman Marc Grossman.
Grossman said the file was appended to include Jewish, Catholic and Hindu selects and sent back to Triplex. At some point afterward, the mistake occurred and the religion was shifted into the business address field of the file.
“Like most groups we would never ask our donors for information about their religion, and we have never done a mailing ourselves based on religion, but if we did we would certainly never place that information in the address field or anywhere else,” he said.
Calls to Donnelley on Friday afternoon were not immediately returned. News of the error made its way into The New York Times last week.
Grossman said that it is unclear when the mistake occurred but that he has an e-mail dated Dec. 10 from Triplex admitting the error.
As of Feb. 10, UFW had sent letters to four individuals and three organizations affected by the gaffe. The data card says the UFW rental/exchange list has 43,300 last-24-month donors and 17,000 25-48 month donors. Of those names, Grossman did not know how many were appended with religious data. The file is managed by Names in the News, Oakland, CA.
“We are genuinely chagrined and embarrassed. We are members of the Direct Marketing Association in good standing,” Grossman said. “How many people were affected? We don't know. I don't think it is as many as some have indicated but if it was just one person it would be too many.”
Also unclear is the long-term effect of the mistake, and Grossman said it's too early to estimate the damage. He would not discuss any possible legal action.
The Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation said the situation highlighted the need for proper data handling.
“I don't know the specifics of how this transpired, but it sounds like a mistake was made and both parties are apologizing,” said Senny Boone, executive director of the federation. “It's a good reminder to the nonprofit organizations and the list brokers on the issues involved.”
Boone pointed to the DMA guidelines for ethical business practices for guidance. She also said the overall effect would depend on how the involved organizations follow up with consumers.
“Perhaps there are ways they can rectify the situation,” she said. “There was a mistake made, but the repercussions are unclear.”
Kristen Bremner covers list news, insert media, privacy and fundraising for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters