Securing donor data: why nonprofit cybersecurity is critical in digital fundraising

Jun 10, 2024
Sage Avarda
Content Marketing Manager

In 2021 and 2022, over 2.6 billion personal records were compromised due to targeted attacks by cybercriminals. Last year, data breaches among U.S. organizations reached an all-time high.

Donors trust nonprofit organizations with sensitive personal and financial data like contact information, payment details, medical records, and social security numbers. As data breach occurrence rates rise, protecting sensitive information from bad actors is more critical for nonprofits than ever.

Learn how to protect both donors and organizations with this guide to securing nonprofit donor data.

Why nonprofit cybersecurity is essential for digital growth

Expanding a nonprofit's digital fundraising efforts requires robust security to protect supporters' trust and ensure sustainable growth. Here's why:

Data privacy isn't just about compliance

Keeping sensitive information safe is deeply intertwined with donor expectations. The public is hyper-aware of how their personal data is collected and used online. Data breaches and mishandling can severely damage an organization’s reputation and relationships.

Data privacy is also very much about compliance

Privacy laws like GDPR and CCPA, which enforce strict standards around data handling, must be understood and followed by all companies that handle sensitive customer data. Violations can result in massive penalties that cripple an organization's finances and operations.

The bar is high — and getting higher — for data security

Major tech companies like Apple and Google are spearheading how data privacy is managed and prioritized — and raising consumers' expectations along the way. Their policies directly impact how nonprofits can leverage user data for targeted fundraising campaigns. Falling out of step with these evolving standards inhibits growth and creates vulnerability.

Putting donor data security first demonstrates a commitment to privacy

Emphasizing and focusing on securing data shows donors that their privacy is valued as much as their support. Implementing a secure fundraising platform with stringent certifications like SOC II, ISO 27001, and PCI DSS signals concrete steps taken to safeguard sensitive donor information across all digital channels.

The challenges of safeguarding donor data

Cyber attackers are always finding new ways to infiltrate systems and exploit vulnerabilities. Nonprofit organizations face the daunting task of staying ahead of increasingly sophisticated attacks while navigating complex compliance landscapes.

Nonprofits also face data compromising threats from inside the organization. This is why organizations must approach privacy holistically, ensuring that employees are educated about the types of threats the organization faces and how every person and team plays a role in mitigating them.

Internal donor data security threats

Human error is a major obstacle to maintaining donor data security. A staggering 88% of data breaches stem from internal personnel mistakes, like falling for phishing scams and mishandling sensitive files. Most nonprofits struggle to properly train their staff on securing their data, providing only cursory annual training that quickly becomes outdated. Implementing robust and ongoing training keeps employees prepared and vigilant, though it’s still not enough.

Cyberattacks pose a high level of risk that goes beyond training. Comprehensive nonprofit cybersecurity education is most effective when coupled with rigorous data policies, access controls, and technology partners that offer enterprise certifications and security tools (e.g., AI-enabled advanced anti-fraud protection) that protects the organization and donors data.

External nonprofit cybersecurity threats

Third-party vendors are also a growing threat. Many nonprofits regularly grant access to donor data systems for functions like payment processing, cloud storage, or IT services. A compromised vendor creates an open door for hackers to infiltrate the organization’s systems. Properly vetting vendors' security protocols is essential.

Another nonprofit cybersecurity challenge is staying ahead of evolving technology and increasingly stringent data privacy regulations. Laws like GDPR and CCPA differ globally and are raising the compliance bar. Advanced attackers are weaponizing techniques like ransomware, which has seen a nearly 70% spike in the last year. Legacy systems and limited IT resources can make it extremely difficult to keep up.

Compliance concerns in a global ecosystem

Preventing disastrous breaches takes vigilance. It's also a matter of legal obligation. Global nonprofits must adhere to a complex web of varying data privacy regulations that govern donor information collection, storage, and usage. Nonprofit cybersecurity compliance challenges around the world include:

Global data protection laws

The EU's GDPR sets strict standards for any organization, nonprofit or otherwise, that handles the personal data of European citizens. Similarly, laws like Canada's PIPEDA extend data protection requirements across North America. Violations can result in massive penalties and lawsuits.

U.S. State data privacy acts

Data privacy is being enforced at the state level in the U.S. through comprehensive laws like California’s CCPA. In fact, 47 states have laws requiring organizations to notify individuals if their personally identifiable information has been breached.

In 2023, seven states, including Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas, passed comprehensive data protection and privacy legislation. California and Colorado also significantly revised their existing privacy laws.

Industry security standards

Beyond regional laws, nonprofits must meet industry-specific security certifications, such as PCI DSS for handling payment data and SOC II for securely managing information. Organizations are increasingly held to the same rigorous cybersecurity standards as commercial businesses.

Audits and compliance checks are becoming more common to ensure donors' sensitive information is properly safeguarded according to established frameworks and standards like PCI DSS.

Donor trust and transparency

Perhaps the biggest compliance issue nonprofits face is maintaining the trust and transparency expected by today's donors. Donors want assurances that their personal information is truly protected from misuse or exposure. Failing to prioritize data privacy can irreparably damage an organization’s credibility.

Make enterprise-level compliance a digital fundraising priority

Nonprofit organizations cannot ignore cybersecurity. The risks of data breaches, compliance penalties, and loss of donor trust are far too severe. Protecting supporters' sensitive information must be a top priority as organizations expand digital fundraising channels.

Fundraise Up provides the robust security and compliance nonprofits need for peace of mind. The platform is PCI DSS Level 1 certified for handling payment data, SOC II Type 2 certified for managing data securely, and ISO 27001 certified, ensuring appropriate safeguards for information security. Organizations also benefit from advanced fraud protection powered by proprietary AI that analyzes millions of transactions to detect and block suspicious behavior before it happens.

Security at Fundraise Up goes beyond just checking boxes. It's built into the platform's architecture, with features like global load balancing, DDoS protection, data encryption, and comprehensive access controls. Fundraise confidently knowing both the nonprofit and donors are safeguarded against modern cyberthreats.

Reach out to the Fundraise Up team to discover how the platform can help grow donation revenue through frictionless digital experiences secured by enterprise-grade technology.

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