What Attendee Data Can You Share With Exhibitors?

Legal Associations Now September/October 2014 By: Dawn Crowell Murphy

Exhibitors at your conferences want to connect with your attendees before the event, not just onsite. What member information can you share, and when? Keep these four caveats in mind before putting exhibitors in touch with your members.

As you prepare for your events involving exhibitors or sponsors, you will likely encounter questions about how they can connect with your members and attendees. These companies are paying for the opportunity to participate in your activities and gain access to your audience. This may include obtaining your membership lists and members' and attendees' contact information.

These interactions can be a win-win-win arrangement: Your organization gains revenue; your members get information, resources, and discounts; and vendors develop new business. But keep a few things in mind when you put exhibitors and sponsors in touch with your members.

1. Revenue Versus Relationships

Associations can reap considerable revenue from renting their membership lists and contact data. But think twice before renting member information to just anyone who asks for it. Members may be unhappy about receiving communications from third parties facilitated by their association, particularly if they believe the solicitations are not relevant to them.

2. Privacy Concerns

Don't tell members or registrants that you won't share their information with third parties if you rent your membership lists or provide member contact information to sponsors or other partners. Any written statement, such as a privacy policy, should be accurate. If you have told members that you will not share their information—in fact, even if you haven't made that statement—consider including a notification in new registration and membership materials that this information may be shared with exhibitors or sponsors.

3. Ownership and Protection

Your membership lists and member data are important assets that you should do your best to protect and control. A written agreement licensing this information should usually state that your association owns the data. It might also specify that the list may be used only for a particular purpose, limit the number of authorized uses, or require the renting entity to obtain approval from you for each separate use.

4. Tax Ramifications

Income received by a tax-exempt organization from the sale or rental of membership lists is considered "passive" and exempt from income tax so long as the organization merely licenses its lists to others for their use. If you take an active role in promoting a company's products or services, the income could be subject to taxation.

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Share With Care."]

Dawn Crowell Murphy

Dawn Crowell Murphy is a senior associate with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP in Washington, DC.