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May 9, 2018
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May 23, 2018

Donor Confidentiality in the Age of the Facebook Privacy Crisis

With all the concern around the disclosure of private information on Facebook, it seems only appropriate that fundraisers assess our own responsibilities around donor confidentiality.

Donor confidentiality has long been a sacred tenet of fundraising. The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Code of Ethics has it listed in their standards. The Donor Bill of Rights, which has been in place for 25 years, speaks to it from the side of the donor. Most organizations have at least a stated commitment of not sharing donor information.

But in these times, it’s worthwhile to revisit your organization’s commitment to confidentiality. Not sharing private information is the right thing to do, but it is also the smart thing to do. Donors are increasingly attuned to having their information shared. Any suspicion that their privacy has been compromised can damage relationships between the donor and the organization.

A review of your organization’s approach to donor confidentiality is probably in order. Here is a checklist of 10 actions to consider:

  1. Ensure that your organization is only collecting information that is pertinent to building the relationship and serving the donor. If a donor was to ask for her or his donor record, would they be unhappy with what they saw?
  2. Talk to staff members, board and volunteers that have access to donor information about the critical importance of keeping that information confidential.
  3. Ensure your organization has a donor confidentiality agreement in place and that staff, volunteers, and board members review and commit to it. Here is an example from the National Council on Nonprofits
  4. Make this policy available on a broad scale by either putting it on your website or making it available in e-form or hard copy. See this example of a donor confidentiality policy posted online
  5. Determine a policy for publishing the names of your donors. Provide an opt-out or opt-in choice for printing names in your annual report or any other public communication. Offer an “Anonymous” donor designation.
  6. Only share or trade donor contact information if you have specifically and explicitly told your donors you are going to do so. Allow donors to opt-out if you are trading mailing lists in any form.
  7. Create a policy around sharing donor information on social media and e-mail. Even as we create community, we have to be careful about naming supporters and sharing their information.
  8. Review your website to ensure that privacy is being extended to donors online and that financial transactions are secure.
  9. Ensure that your organization has a policy on the collection and use of mobile, home, and business numbers and honors donors’ requests not to be telephoned.
  10. Provide donors with a name of someone at your organization and a number to call should they have concerns about their information or privacy.

There may be other steps that are appropriate for your fundraising operation and the way it raises money. But any organization that raises funds and stores information has an ethical duty to have the conversation from every angle: staff, board, volunteers, vendors, and especially donors.

You absolutely do not want to be the nonprofit that gets the Facebook-type glare.  Revisit your confidentiality policies today!

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