Why I practice Informed Consent and You Should Too

Repecting Your Client’s Dignity in the Sharing Economy

This is story of why I practice informed consent in nonprofit marketing/fundraising and you should too.

I’ve been asked what it is that makes me want to talk about informed consent marketing. It’s an experience I think back to from when I first started sharing client success stories.

I’m a certified DV Advocate, so I know that when someone gets out of a bad situation with their partner, they’ve got to protect themselves from being found.

In my day to day work, at the time, I was writing a short piece celebrating a young woman who’d won a college scholarship.

Sharing this type of story was common, a cause for celebration and proof that the nonprofit’s supporters were making a difference in someone’s life. I didn’t think much of it, other than that it was so inspiring to know about this young woman’s accomplishments despite everything she had to endure and overcome in her life.

A few months later, I learned that this young woman’s ex was being let out of jail. He’d been there for domestic abuse.

At the time I published the story, I didn’t know she was in a domestic violence (DV) situation. I’d published her story on the website, with her full name, photo, and age.

I shared it on all the social media channels, getting content mileage for the story as good marketers do.

If you’ve got a background in DV, you’re probably cringing right now. It’s okay, I still cringe talking about it too.

My heart sank to my stomach when I realized that all of this young woman’s information was on the website, on social media. Even though her exact location wasn’t available, it wouldn’t be hard for someone to connect the dots on where to find her.

I’d put her in danger.

I immediately took down her story on the website, went back months to find the social media posts about her and deleted them.

I felt terrible having put her in a dangerous situation.

It was then I knew there has to be a better way to market client stories.

When I learned about informed consent, I thought, “This is it!” This is how I’d know if it would do more harm than good to publish someone’s story. I’d have a conversation with the person who’s story I was writing and ask them if they could imagine any consequences to having their photo and information online.

Contact me for a guide to learn how to have an informed consent conversation.

It took years to change the culture of the organization into one that valued informed consent above fundraising deadlines and supporter pressure. It was a complete mindset shift and process change.

For informed consent to work, it has to be rooted in the culture of the organization. Everyone has to work together to continue promoting the agency AND do right by the clients, like this young woman.

The root of the problem in nonprofit marketing is assuming that if you have good intentions, you’re doing something good.

Damn was I wrong.

It’s hard to think about that, let alone admit that trying to do good led to putting someone in harms way. 

It’s what I want to prevent for other folks like me and for the people they serve. 

This is why I talk about and teach folks how to practice informed consent. My goal is to turn informed consent into a nonprofit best practice, to educate professionals and nonprofit client’s alike that it is okay to say no to media requests, and to give client’s back their agency. 

Those of us with big hearts, we do the best we can. We have the best intentions, but they don’t always lead to the best and highest good for the people we serve. 

Maya Angelou’s words always come to mind in these scenarios: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Spreading the practice of informed consent in the nonprofit sector is my definition of doing better.

Contact me for a guide to learn how to have an informed consent conversation.