Data protection for charities is an important topic. Charities collect the personal information of their donors, including names, addresses, credit card details and bank account numbers. They use this information to manage members, coordinate fundraising and process payments.

The mismanagement of data and personal information may not only be unlawful, but may reduce the charity’s reputation, and as a consequence, the support they receive from the public or private sector. This article will explain data protection for charities and how a charity can meet its obligations to safeguard the personal information of donors.

Establishing Data Protection Procedures

Charities need to establish good practices around how they collect, store and use personal information. First, the charity should ensure that they have data protection procedures in place to protect personal information. For example, by storing donor information in encrypted databases and keeping antivirus software up to date.

Secondly, the charity should write an organisation-wide privacy policy that outlines how the charity:

  • collects personal information;
  • secures personal information;
  • discloses personal information; and
  • allows donors to view, amend and remove their personal information.

Complying with Direct Marketing Obligations

As many charities raise money through direct marketing, they should consider any obligations imposed by their fundraising authority. Fundraising authorities differ from each state and territory so the charity should first look at any direct agreements they have with their relevant government regulator (for example, the Queensland Office of Fair Trading).

There are, however, general best practices that a charity can implement, including:

  • making people aware that the charity may use their personal information to undertake direct marketing; or
  • letting people request the removal of their personal information from direct marketing communications.

Sharing Donor Information

Occasionally charities can benefit from sharing their donor information. For example, by swapping information with another charity to expand their audience. However, there is a risk that the other charity will use the information inappropriately, or that people will not want their information shared.

Therefore, a charity should be careful to ensure it follows similar processes discussed above. For example, the charity should make donors aware of:

  • the potential for their information to be shared with other organisations;
  • the specific organisations that their information will be given to;
  • what type of information will be shared; and
  • the purpose for which their information will be shared.

More stringent obligations apply if the charity is sharing personal information with an overseas organisation.

Meeting Legal Obligations

Charities are also subject to legal obligations relating to relating to data protection and privacy. The three big ones are:

Legal Obligation Explanation
Fundraising licence If a charity undertakes fundraising activities, some states and territories will require the charity to obtain a licence. These licences may impose specific obligations about how the charity uses information obtained from fundraising.
Australian Charity and Not-For-Profit Commission (ACNC) The ACNC requires charities to comply with their governance standards. These include a general obligation to act honestly and fairly and within the interests of the charitable purposes. This obligation can extend to the charity’s collection, storage and use of personal or sensitive information and data.
Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) (Privacy Act) and the Australian Privacy Principles The charity will need to comply with the Privacy Act and Australian Privacy Principles if the charity sells or purchases personal information, provides health services or has an annual turnover of more than $3 million. If so, they will have additional obligations for and have processes in place to ensure personal information and data is protected.

Key Takeaways

Charities routinely collect and handle the personal information of their donors. Some of this information is highly sensitive, such as credit card and bank account details. To protect this information, charities need robust data protection and privacy policies.

If you require further advice on data protection for charities, you can check out how to manage people’s data on the ACNC website.

Kristine Biason
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