April 14, 2020
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Protecting your privacy when donating

Here's how to help nonprofits while protecting yourself online.

Nonprofits need your help to keep helping others. Here's how to step up while protecting your privacy. Photo via Christin Hume/Unsplash

With donations from individuals accounting for the majority of all charitable giving, it’s no wonder that many nonprofit organizations rely on you for donations.

When you support an organization, you trust them to keep your information secure and confidential. With the European Union’s recent implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), you might be wondering if a similar law exists in the U.S. Many states have made strides in an effort to protect consumer’s data privacy, yet there is no federal law currently in place. That means many organizations may be collecting your personal information. But what exactly is being collected?

Websites collect data through cookies

Chances are when you have been browsing the internet, you’ve encountered a pop-up notification on a website asking for your permission to use cookies while you browse on that particular site. Most of us click the “agree” button and continue to browse without asking, “What are cookies?”

These cookies are not of the chocolate chip variety. Website cookies are small pieces of data from a specific website that are stored within your browser while you search the internet. They do many things, such as keeping track of your browsing activity in order to show you targeted ads for goods and services. Ever Googled something only to see it later that day on a completely different website? That’s an example of cookies in action.

While cookies collect information about where you’ve been online, they also collect data on who you are (name and email), who you’ve been talking to (social media), and what you’re interested in (stores, events, causes, etc.). All of these data points are combined to create a detailed picture of you as a consumer.

While all this may sound a little scary, cookies aren’t all bad – they often add functionality to sites you visit, making the experience faster and easier. Cookies are responsible for remembering your login details for specific websites, like Facebook, Gmail, and even your bank.

This stored data can be especially useful to the nonprofits you’re supporting. It might feel like they’re gathering too much, but this information allows them to give you a tailored experience that aligns with the things you care about. Data also allows organizations to ensure that their programs and services are matching up with what their constituents need or appreciate.

However, we increasingly hear media reports of people’s information being misused. Let’s talk about a few easy ways to protect your information throughout your giving experience.

Protecting your data

The first thing you can do to protect your data is to periodically delete your cookies. Because cookies are responsible for tracking your digital footprint, deleting them can help you avoid these tracking attempts and lower the risk of a security issue. (Remember that cookies are also responsible for remembering login information, so, if you delete them from your browser, be prepared to manually sign in to all of your accounts.)

Another important thing to consider is whether or not an organization has a Donor Privacy Policy (Here’s ours). In addition to a standard Terms of Use and Privacy Policy, donor privacy policies are an extra step that charities take to explicitly state how or when they will use data associated with your visits. For example, Charity Navigator states that “We will not sell, share, or trade our donors’ names or personal information with any other entity, nor send mailings to our donors on behalf of other organizations.”

Lastly, donating anonymously could help protect your personal information. Although this sometimes means forgoing a tax receipt. Charity Navigator’s Giving Basket is a tool that helps you manage your donations and provides you with the option to donate anonymously. An added benefit of the Giving Basket is that you can donate to one or multiple charities in just one transaction. This means that all of your charitable giving is documented on one tax receipt, even if you give anonymously!

Nonprofits and security

Before giving to a charity or creating an account for the first time on a nonprofit’s website, make sure the organization has a Donor Privacy Policy, in addition to their Privacy Policy. If you’re not sure, check out the charity’s rating on Charity Navigator (one of our Accountability & Transparency metrics is whether or not the organization has an easily accessible Donor Privacy Policy on their website). If the organization does not have a Donor Privacy Policy and you don’t want them to use your information, reach out to the organization and ask them to delete your data or remove it from shared and sold data lists. Otherwise, consider donating to another charity with a similar mission that does have a Donor Privacy Policy.

Again, charities depend on your contributions. Arm yourself with knowledge about internet security and you’ll still be able to support missions that you feel deeply about without the extra worry.

This article originally appeared on Charity Navigator’s blog.

Giana Lozano

Charity Navigator

Giana Lozano is the Marketing and Communications Assistant at Charity Navigator.