In the twenty-first century, data and information are everywhere. Collecting information is truly foundational to everything we do in our daily work. Online activities that collect personal information, fundraising efforts, volunteer screening, and social media put a responsibility on nonprofits to consciously manage people’s privacy, information, and other data.
By being privacy conscious you can help strengthen your organization’s reputation, enhance the trust in your staff, and even increase the loyalty of donors, participants, and volunteers.
If you want to maintain a positive perception of your organization and the important work you do, a solid practice is to have processes in place for managing information and personal records.
Here are a few simple ideas and actions your organization can take to be more privacy conscious and protect the personal information and privacy of those people who interact with your nonprofit.
Enhance your organization’s reputation
Protecting privacy and personal information can improve your organization’s reputation.
In general, nonprofits that manage personal information in accordance with privacy legislation (like PIPA or FOIP) are seen as more accountable and trustworthy, by clients, volunteers, donors, and potential partners.
An improved reputation may mean that other agencies will find opportunities to work together with your nonprofit more attractive, especially if operating joint programs or if a partnership requires information sharing.
By simply reviewing how your organization currently manages personal information, you can begin to establish more formalized processes.
A simple review of your current practices may provide other benefits like;
- assist you in making better decisions about what information is reasonable to collect and only collecting what you need
- guide you to use the information you collect more effectively and intentionally
- improve how you protect the privacy of those people who are important to you
Trust in your staff
Not having good personal information protections in place could hurt how your staff are perceived and trusted by your donors, volunteers, and clients.
Simply because a few standardized processes are lacking in their work, your staff may not be perceived to have the same level of responsibility and accountability as people working in businesses.
While initially it may seem like added work, you can help improve the level of trust your donors, volunteers, and clients have in your staff by involving staff in the process of protecting personal information.
Simple ways your staff can be seen as part of protecting privacy while collecting information include;
- staff being transparent about how a person’s personal information will be used, providing those people an opportunity to ask questions or make requests that help them feel their information is respected
- staff explaining how information will be stored and/or destroyed, demonstrating a professional level of accountability in the staff person and helping to develop a relationship of trust between the individual and staff at your organization
Loyalty from your donors, participants, and volunteers
People are asked to share their personal information many times a day, from entering an email address, to sharing a postal code at a store check-out, to signing into social media websites. Personal information is increasingly valuable in today’s world.
People are concerned about what data is requested of them, how much of the requested information is required for the service they want to use, and how their data is eventually used. While they may have differing thoughts and feelings about their expected privacy when it comes to their own information, one thing often rings true, people generally place more trust and respect in those who work to protect their privacy.
People who your organization counts on to volunteer or donate are not only important to your work, but also champions who will share the experiences they have with your organizations with others. It is a good idea to be transparent with those people about the steps you have in place to protect and respect their privacy.
Some simple solutions that you can incorporate;
- a “privacy practices and policy” notice on all donation forms or receipts
- be upfront about the personal information that is required for volunteer screening processes (ex. is a police information check required, references, or employment history?)
- set clear expectations during volunteer interviews or orientation about how their personal information will be used, stored, and destroyed
If your organization is already taking some of these steps for privacy protection – great work! Please keep it up and share any tips you might have about your processes in the comments.