Donors trust nonprofits to use their donations wisely. However, in donating, supporters give a lot more than just money–they release their personal and financial information.
As nonprofits rely on digital tools to collect donations, plan events, and manage volunteers, sensitive data like credit card numbers and home addresses are stored within fundraising platforms. Failure to keep this information safe can lead to data breaches and a damaged reputation.
Fortunately, there are several steps organizations can take to ensure the security of donor data while still leveraging the benefits of fundraising software. In this guide, we’ll explore the following data security strategies:
- Evaluate fundraising platforms.
- Provide data security training and tips.
- Consistently monitor donor data.
Evaluate fundraising platforms.
The first step in finding a secure fundraising platform is to evaluate your options. Create a list of all the functions you expect your software to perform, then decide how that will impact your donors. For example, you might use a fundraising platform to:
- Register participants for an event. Donor email addresses, phone numbers, residential addresses, and more can be collected and stored simply to sign up for an event.
- Learn more about donors. Software may allow your nonprofit to collect notes on each donor, such as workplace information or their relationship with your organization.
- Create donor profiles. Your donors may create their own profiles on a fundraising platform. Through this, they’ll input sensitive information and offer an email address and password to log in.
- Collect payments. A highly risky piece of information that donors will offer is their credit card or bank information. These details might be stored in your platform’s database long-term to be used for several payments.
Since investing in fundraising software involves collecting sensitive donor data, Snowball Fundraising’s guide to online donation platforms recommends prioritizing high data security in your search. Secure software will protect your donors’ information with features such as:
- Encryption: Choose a fundraising platform that encrypts data before transmitting it via the internet. This means the data will be inaccessible to anyone other than the intended recipient, even when it’s stored in a database for future use.
- Two-factor authentication: Find a fundraising platform that requires donors to provide two forms of identification before accessing their accounts or other sensitive data. That way, a compromised password won’t be enough for an unauthorized user to access donor data.
- Data monitoring: Some fundraising platforms monitor data security and identify issues in real time. This allows security issues to be addressed preemptively rather than as crisis control.
As you compare different platforms, ask peers in the nonprofit realm for their experiences with data security. Also, reach out to the support teams of different platforms to ask for their data security and crisis management plans in case of a security breach.
Provide data security training and tips.
Fundraising tasks are likely delegated to several teams within your nonprofit. For example, you may establish a marketing team to promote your matching gift program or recruit event volunteers to manage your auction.
Because of this, it’s possible that many team members will need access to donor data. Using the example above, your event volunteers might accept donors’ payments through event software. Although digital tools can be helpful for streamlining event processes, donor information can be easily input into a database without considering necessary safety protocols.
By equipping every staff and board member with sufficient training and knowledge, your whole team can work to keep donor data secure. Offer data safety tips through multiple learning opportunities, such as:
- Online training courses
- Mentor coaching
- Hands-on learning workshops
Consider standardizing this training during staff member onboarding to ensure everyone is on the same page from the start of their time with your organization. You might also hold monthly meetings to reinforce best practices and keep your staff up to date on any security measures that may have changed.
The responsibility of keeping data secure doesn’t fall solely on your staff, though. Provide data security tips for donors, as well, so they know how to handle their own information. For example, you might suggest they:
- Use strong passwords. Explain that strong passwords protect against cyber threats and hackers. Require strong passwords for login information associated with your organization’s tools.
- Limit sensitive data sharing. Remind donors to protect passwords, payment information, and other sensitive data from others.
- Avoid phishing scams. Use your nonprofit’s brand to reassure donors that they’re giving to the right organization.
- Keep thorough donation records. Send email receipts for donations to provide donors with a way to record their donations.
Let’s say you’re launching your organization’s virtual store. Use promotional materials to share information about the store, such as the link to the page (emphasizing that it’s the only link). You can share other data safety tips about purchases, such as only making a purchase with a secure Internet connection and saving receipts from every transaction.
Educating your donors on data security will ensure that they do their part to keep their information safe. You should also be transparent about the precautions your organization takes so that donors know they can trust your nonprofit with their information.
Consistently monitor donor data.
In order to quickly identify and mitigate security threats to your organization, you’ll have to keep a close watch over your data. NPOInfo’s donor data management guide recommends taking the following steps to monitor donor information:
- Standardize data entry. Establish rules for how data will be collected, who will track the data, and what measures you’ll take to avoid recording duplicate data.
- Establish data review processes. Check data on a regular basis for outdated or incorrect information. Make any necessary changes promptly.
- Categorize data points. Break down your donor data so you know where to look when you need to find something. For example, if you’re wondering what percentage of your donors live in the local area, segment your donor data by location.
- Organize your information. Make sure all donor data exists in the same place. Having multiple organization systems for donor data opens their sensitive information to more opportunities to be compromised.
- Conduct a data append. Data appending is adding new data to an existing database and is important for supplementing or updating your nonprofit’s records. For example, if you’re missing a donor’s phone number or if a volunteer changes addresses, you can ensure that you have the correct information for soliciting donations down the road.
Look for outside resources that can help you organize, update, and monitor your data. For instance, there are security newsletters and online communities dedicated to providing updates on data collection best practices and top software providers.
If you already have a fundraising platform that meets your nonprofit’s needs, evaluate the security policies listed on their website or call their support team to learn more. Then, employ your own security measures and equip donors with the information they need to make informed decisions about how to share their data. Doing so will help you maintain their trust and win their support.