In the current age of “hacking,” where so much information is floating around on the internet and in databases, it’s no wonder people are a little bit worried about their privacy. Add to this some recent headlines concerning large retail stores’ electronic files being compromised, and there’s a good chance that some of your volunteers may be feeling even more concerned than usual. Naturally, your organization wants to do everything possible to protect its volunteer management system database. Below are some suggestions on ways to keep your data secure and safe.

Security Settings

One of the most important aspects of security is a firewall to prevent unauthorized internet usage. You’ll want to make sure your volunteer management system provider uses the best firewall systems available to protect your information. In addition, verify that your provider offers flexibility with security permission settings. This will allow the administrator the ability to set security levels on an individual or group basis. In this manner, you can tailor what information is available to users on a “need to know” basis.

Not Just Hackers
Because the stealing and “hacking” of information is sensationalized in the media, many administrators forget that the most likely risk to their data is a system crash. Think about how disheartening it would be to lose years’ worth of data in the event of system failure. The time and money wasted could be tremendous. One of the best ways to guard against this is by the use of a cloud-based volunteer management system. This puts the responsibility of data backup on the cloud software provider. Since most nonprofits simply don’t have the time or resources to devote someone to data backup, storing your data in “the cloud” can be an ideal situation. Some things to look for in a volunteer management system provider are:

  • Redundancy – Does your provider have a mirroring process? If so, what does it look like, and how often does it happen? Also, how often are files backed up? Once a day is ideal.
  • Reliability – Are your provider’s servers monitored 24/7, or just intermittently? What happens if the power or internet connectivity to the servers goes out? Your provider should have backup generators and numerous internet connections from various providers for worst-case scenarios.

Treat a Volunteer Like a Client or Employee
The other aspect of data security has little to do with electronic records. Instead, it’s about how and when information is disseminated. For instance, many volunteer coordinators assume it’s fine for everyone to know who their volunteers are. Coordinators put volunteers’ names in programs, press releases,  et cetera.  However, in reality, a volunteer may not want everyone to know his or her volunteering habits. That’s why it’s probably a good idea to treat a new volunteer like a client or employee. Most agencies have strict guidelines on what information can and can’t be given out in regard to clients served. When signing up a volunteer, take the time to put in writing who you can share their information with and when. Use your existing client and employee release forms as a guide and craft something specifically for volunteers. At this point, a volunteer can put in writing to whom you may release information. It will help ease the frustration of the volunteer who doesn’t mind if his wife calls to get his schedule while protecting the privacy of the volunteer who doesn’t want to be recognized in a picture in the local paper.

When volunteers agree to give your agency information, they are putting their privacy in your hands. The level of trust is extremely high. As such, taking proper security measures is one of the most important things you can do as a volunteer coordinator.

Learn more about VolunteerHub’s volunteer database solution.

Shawn Kendrick holds an MBA from Ohio Dominican University and writes for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based volunteer management system for nonprofits.

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