A Donor’s Nightmare: IRS Leaks Entire Donor List

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A true horror story about when the IRS leaked the names of every donor who gave to the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) – effectively outing every citizen on their private donor list as opposing gay marriage in the US.

501(c)(3) organizations in the US have to file 990 Forms each year with the IRS. This form includes all donor information. While 990 forms are public documents, individual donor information is not released publicly. The IRS says it will redact any personal information before they make it public. Only they did not do that. Not this time. Instead, they leaked the entire list.

Central to our mission at Silent Donor is the belief that all people are entitled to their own opinions and beliefs. Regardless of our personal views, people have the right to send donations to causes they believe in, and they also are entitled to a right to privacy – a right that the IRS (among other stakeholders) is supposed to protect. We believe no person or company has to feel like they are donating in state of fear over what some other person/entity might say if they find out. This story not only highlights a perversion of the personal privacy of scores of citizens, but it also underscores the fragility of the organizations that are victimized by circumstances like this. 

This leak was problematic for two huge reasons. Apart from opening up all the donors of NOM to ruinous public backlash, it had a catastrophic effect on the non-profit. NOM no longer had the support of the donating public and found it very hard to continually attract donors. This addresses the second biggest problem we saw in the market before we created Silent Donor – a problem not focused on the donors, but instead on the organizations. The current landscape robs worthy organizations of the donations they need to help a given cause because some donors are afraid of what others will do/say in response if the public finds out, as they did in this case.

So, how bad was the leak for the organization? Over the next 3 years, NOM experienced a 400% decline in revenue! Silent Donor exists to stop stories like this. Our anonymous donation framework serves both donors as well as organizations. Our aim is to help ensure that a story like this cannot happen again. Send an anonymous donation today!