“Collection of personal information is at the very foundation of a nonprofit’s success, for sure, but they also have the duty to protect that information.”
This according to Katrin Verclas, executive director of the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network, a San Francisco-based professional community that connects people involved in nonprofit technology.
Nonprofits collect all sorts of private information about their constituents, such as their home addresses; home phone numbers; work phone numbers; e-mail addresses; and details about their interests and family status, etc. Having that information is extremely important for any kind of nonprofit success and effectiveness, Verclas says. The more you know about your constituents — whether they’re donors, people receiving services, members, decision makers, the media, etc. — the better you can serve them and the better you can target them.
But maintaining the privacy of that constituent information is equally as vital to the success of an organization.
“If you ask people what’s their primary concern about any kind of transaction on the Internet, the top concern is privacy,” Verclas says, adding that N-TEN recommends that all nonprofits do what she calls a formal privacy assessment within their organization, which includes asking questions such as:
* What information are we collecting?
* What information is posted on our Web site?
* To what extent do we reveal names of people who donate?
* Have we obtained consent for collecting this information?
“That’s what I think nonprofits ought to be doing. The currency obviously in the nonprofit sector is trust, so that creates trust,” Verclas says, stressing the importance of actually adhering to the policy once it’s created. “It’s not just a policy you stick on your Web site, it’s an action plan.”
The nonprofit/constituent relationship is a precious bond. Verclas says it’s important for organizations to put all their cards on the table with constituents and keep them informed.
“It’s in your best interest as an organization to never surprise your constituents. If they are unpleasantly surprised by anything that you do, how likely are they to give you support in any way or act on requests for action?” she says.
“For nonprofits, there’s that social responsibility that you have. They occupy a very precious space in society overall,” Verclas says. “You have to live up to it with good work and a very professional, extremely trustworthy manner in which you operate.”
Katrin Verclas can be reached via www.nten.org.