We have received a request from a for-profit organization for a membership list from our 501(c)(3) charity. We have always guarded this list against use for any purpose other than our stated mission and have not divulged it. I am greatly concerned that this membership list will be used to solicit business for the companies that are requesting it. Are we required to provide them our membership list?
No. Membership lists of nonprofits are generally not public information. Some significant First Amendment litigation has been fought over the right of an organization to keep its membership lists private, even in the face of court subpoenas.
Members of nonprofit corporations normally have a right to get a list for a proper corporate purpose, but use for private commercial activity would not likely be considered a proper corporate purpose. Although it is very hard to enforce, some organizations make it a condition of membership to keep the lists private and will take action to discipline or expel members who use the list for improper purposes. If you are going to distribute the list to your members generally, in a membership directory, for example, be sure that you specify any limitations on its use.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
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