Thursday, January 07, 2016

Nonprofits, data, and privacy

How would you react if you had to include your social security number alongside your name and address on charitable donations you made so that the nonprofit could then report that information as part of its public filings?

Let me'd say no way. That can't be safe. It can't be a good idea either for me to transmit that info or to think the nonprofit could store it or transmit it to the IRS safely.*

Which is why it's a really good thing that a coalition led by the National Council on Nonprofits convinced the IRS to step back from a proposal asking for just that.

This is a big deal and a "tip of the iceberg" moment for nonprofits and foundations and donors - in other words, all of us - to think hard about the massive amounts of digital data that flow through nonprofits.

Nonprofits can't be expected to manage information like that securely.  They're underresourced as it is, every time they turn around someone else is yelling at them about the money they spend on administrative costs and not on mission, and, oh by the way, big companies and the US government can't keep that kind of data safe, you really think a small community organization can?

There are lots of other issues about data security and ethical use out there. I'm hoping this success - on which the sector stood together - will help bring digital governance issues to the forefront. The site is designed to help address them - check it out here and be in touch if you have resources to share.

*Focusing just on data security issues. Says nothing about those who give anonymously and hope to keep it that way.

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