Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Privacy Please

It's time to remind our churches and charities again of the Golden Rule, "treat others as you want to be treated" (free and modern translation).

A few years ago, I was responsible for publishing my church's membership directory. We realized at the time that the church did not have a written privacy policy with regard to safeguarding general contact information. Not surprisingly, we didn't have a written privacy policy regarding donor information either. Donor names, addresses, phone numbers, emails and annual giving history, etc. were considered "confidential" and certainly not shared casually with others. However, what has become a common practice in industry of having a written policy regarding that information, was lacking in the church. That is too bad and it can be embarrassing as well. Every now and then, we read about how customers private information has been compromised by some reckless company. Typically the news reads something like this:

Because of Xcompany's actions, hundreds of thousands or even millions of its customers have had their personal financial information compromised, have had their privacy rights violated, have been exposed to the risk of fraud and identity theft, and have otherwise suffered damages," according to sources (or "film at 11:00 PM").
Having a policy doesn't insure that confidential information is safeguarded but it's a start. People that have worked with me for a while know that I'm typically reminding my coworkers of the importance of three "P's" in business; or Policy, Procedure and Practice that need to be aligned in order for an organization to be firing on all cylinders. This means we have to do what we say we are going to do, and we have to do it consistently.

The reason for the mention of a privacy policy is because I often find that it's one of those industry practices that haven't made it successfully into the church or charity.

Do donors, members and our general email contacts expect charities to protect their personal information? Ya think! Finding out that your church or charity was negligent with your data is like finding your son or daughter going through your purse or wallet. Disappointment quickly turns to frustration and a loss of confidence and support.

Having a written policy is only the first step. Organizations need to take steps that volunteers and employees are aware of the policy and that they are properly safeguarding the information that they need to maintain. Also, organizations need to maintain only the information absolutely necessary and they need to limit the casual access of the data by volunteers and employees.

Some best-practices would include that to respect the privacy of individual contacts and donors, contact information and donor names should never be sold or otherwise made available without prior permission of the donors, except where disclosure is required by law (i.e. IRS Form 990 disclosures).

Other best practices would include ensuring that computer data is secure and password-protected. Data should only be available to qualified persons and databases should not be copied to notebook computers where security issues often are more likely to be compromised.

If your organization does not have the technical expertise to assess and determine privacy policy and data security, there are a number of independent consultants that have the appropriate expertise. If the task seems large and overwhelming, follow the typical advice given when someone wants to eat an elephant. “Take small bites.”

Thursday, February 22, 2007

In God We Trust

Recently, I had the privilege of attending the National Religious Broadcasters Convention, along with about six-thousand other people, in Orlando. The NRB had some unusual guests in a spirited panel debate moderated by Janet Parshall that included atheist Michael Newdow and Rev. Barry Lynn of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The name of Lynn's organization is really one of those "enigmas, cloaked in a mystery" as it appears the organization is really more about getting rid of any religious custom or reference in public life.

I felt sad for atheist, Michael Newdow, who was very bright and not unlikable, but too narrowly focused on his intention of removing "Under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. It was ironic as well since he is supposedly ordained by some anti-religion religious group. Atheism is after all a religion as it takes a lot more faith to believe in the stuff they believe in than have belief in the one true God.

Two Christian lawyers were present, Jay Sekulow and Mat Staver. I really enjoyed seeing Sekulow in action. He argued very convincingly that public expressions of faith, like the words "In God We Trust" on our currency were constitutional and a part of America's heritage. One of his most persuasive comments were that our Judiciary, our Courts, are to rule on whether or not something is constitutional, period. Those things that are good for the nation (or bad for the nation) are left up to our laws and to Congress.

Interestingly, it was an Act of Congress in 1837, that prescribed that either OUR COUNTRY; OUR GOD or GOD, OUR TRUST should appear as a motto on coins. A few years later in 1864, legislation changed the wording and IN GOD WE TRUST first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin.

The year 1864 was an extremely difficult year. It was the year that President Abraham Lincoln would be re-elected by a slim margin during a very divisive and horrific war. The tall man from Illinois probably best understood the motto, "In God We Trust" but would not live to see the reconstruction of the North and the South as "One Nation Under God". Fortunately, neither Barry Lynn nor Michael Newdow, nor people like them prevailed to remove all mention of God from the public record or Lincoln wouldn't have been able to use these words in his Second Inaugural:
"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

WHY A NON-DENOMINATIONAL EVANGELICAL CHURCH?

Our small Christian non-profit ministry recently requested and received approval from the IRS to be re-classified as a ‘church’.      ...