It’s uncommon for non-profits to sell private information about their donors and other members, but the College Art Association (CAA) doesn’t wag like everyone else: the organization sells its members’ home addresses to direct mail companies. To be fair, CAA provides an option for new members to refuse the release of their private information when signing up; that’s required by federal law.
This doesn’t negate the fact that many other arts non-profits look down on this practice. We asked Rhizome and Independent Curators International (ICI) whether they release information on their members, and representatives from both organizations expressed shock that a non-profit would do such a thing. “We don’t endorse that,” said Zoe Salditch, Program Director at Rhizome.
We discovered CAA’s direct mail dealings by perusing their advertising page. The downloadable Membership Mailing List order form includes the disclaimer that CAA reserves the right to refuse any order whose content it deems inappropriate. This means members won’t receive fliers for car insurance, but they might end up with academic junk mail, like unsolicited brochures from textbook publishers.
As for opting out of CAA’s mailing list rental program, new members can do so online. After confirming a membership package, a warning page pops up. Unchecking the last box will remove the new member’s address from CAA’s mailing list rentals.
Opting out as a renewing member, though, is trickier. If you’re like me, someone whose membership has elapsed, this page doesn’t pop up, leaving no chance to change your mailing list options online.
The advantages for CAA’s snail mail practice appear small when looking at the organization’s financials. Approximately 12,000 artists, art historians, and museum staff pay to wield a CAA membership card, which created $1.9 million in revenue for the organization in 2010. That same year, CAA made only $28,557 in revenue from their mailing list rentals. That’s not chump change—it’s probably somebody’s salary—but it’s also only $2 per member, from an organization that charges $65 to $195 for a basic membership. For such a sketchy practice, there isn’t much of a financial benefit for keeping it in place.
As a non-profit, CAA has no financial or mission-related justification for bringing in money through old-fashioned junk mail. And the organization, whose current relevance relies on its annual conference for job seekers in the arts, isn’t looking au courant by sending out unsolicited snail mail. Regardless of whether CAA sends out e-junk or just junk, we expect more from non-profits than selling our personal information.