Data provides powerful insights that inform strategic planning and decision-making for organizations in any industry. However, our increasingly digital world leaves sensitive information at the mercy of careful data collection and storage.

With over 50% of organizations experiencing data breaches in the past year, robust data security measures are vital to protect details like personal information and intellectual property. In this guide, we’ll explore the importance of data privacy and the steps you can implement to protect your organization and its constituents.

The importance of data privacy

Data privacy is the protection of private information from improper access, theft, or loss by governing the way it’s used. Across any industry, data privacy is crucial for the following reasons:

  • Maintains organizational trust: Demonstrating your organization’s ability to responsibly manage sensitive data reassures constituents, partners, and stakeholders that your organization is trustworthy. As a result, your organization will reap the benefits of an enhanced reputation within its community.
  • Facilitates trustworthy research and innovation: Ethical and transparent data management ensures your usage of sensitive information adheres to privacy regulations and best practices. This encourages participation and collaboration among external parties for your organization’s research endeavors. For example, constituents will more willingly provide their information for analysis of constituent behavior when they’re confident you’ll handle their data with care.
  • Fosters trust in digital ecosystems: Individuals will be more comfortable engaging with your organization’s digital services and platforms when they can trust their information is adequately protected. This way, your organization can leverage the power of digital solutions to streamline its operations with the full cooperation of its constituents.

Failing to protect sensitive information leaves your organization vulnerable to the risk of data breaches, which can have substantial consequences. For instance, without the right management software in place, a data breach at a healthcare organization could affect several at-risk patient populations.

In fact, healthcare providers are in the top three industries most victimized by data breach incidents. Because this industry is more prone to data violations, healthcare organizations must comply with specific regulations such as The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).

What is classified as private data?

Broadly, private data refers to any personal information, identifiable to an individual or organization. However, depending on your industry, the types of data that must be kept confidential can vary greatly. While it usually refers to personal information, private data might also include an organization’s confidential information.

Here are a few examples of what constitutes private data:

  • Personally identifiable details, such as social security numbers or IP addresses
  • Nonpublic or sensitive personal information, including financial information or personal beliefs that fall under data privacy regulations
  • Protected health information, like medical record numbers or health plan beneficiary numbers, that could be used to identify a patient
  • Regulated, business, and high-risk information, including any unstructured organizational data or information critical to your organization’s operations

Your organization should always ensure its database is accurate and complete. Double the Donations’s appending guide recommends verifying and validating your organization’s information to ensure it’s correct. This way, you can detect any errors or inconsistencies that may interfere with your data usage.

3 Steps to enhance data privacy

While your organization may be subject to specific data regulations and policies depending on your industry, here are a few key steps you can take to take control of data privacy.

1. Identify your sensitive data

To ensure your data privacy efforts target the right information, you must first learn what data should be protected at your organization. Answer the following questions as a starting point:

  • What is it? Use the definition of private data to identify what information would qualify as sensitive within your organization.
  • Where is it stored? Locate private data within your organization’s databases, file servers, and other storage infrastructure.
  • How is it managed? Evaluate your current data management practices from acquisition to archival or disposal. Note any security measures already in place to govern this data. For example, Arcadia’s overview of healthcare data platforms notes that modern platforms automatically employ predefined security measures to support data access restriction.
  • Who has access to it? Determine who has access to the private data you’ve identified. Which internal teams are authorized to access it and how is that determined? Note any relevant permissions or restrictions in place.

Once you’ve answered the above questions, conduct a complete data privacy audit and look for potential risks, vulnerabilities, or areas of noncompliance. Look to industry standards to evaluate your current data privacy practices and identify any overlooked areas.

2. Implement strong access controls

Your organization’s data requires a delicate balance between privacy and easy access. For example, a nonprofit’s donor data management strategies might include encrypting donors’ payment details to protect their financial information, but allowing several teams access to their contact information for marketing and outreach purposes.

After identifying your organization’s private data, you can strengthen its protection by following these key strategies:

  • Limit access: Grant team members access to private data, but only the minimum level needed to fulfill their roles. For example, administrative staff at your healthcare organization may need access to scheduling and billing information, but there’s no reason for this team to access medical records. Assign access rights based on team members’ responsibilities and job functions to ensure data is only accessed as needed.
  • Use authentication mechanisms: Verify users’ identity before granting them access to sensitive systems. For example, you might require multi-factor authentication (MFA) to access an employee portal on your organization’s website.
  • Monitor and track access: Record and track access attempts, changes to data, and other user activities to monitor any suspicious activity. If unauthorized behavior is detected, implement automated alerts to notify you immediately.

By implementing these access controls, you’ll ensure that only authorized individuals can access your private data. This way, your organization can reduce the risk of data breaches and privacy violations.

3. Perform regular data backups

While unauthorized access to your private data is dangerous, there are also risks associated with losing access to your data altogether. Protect your data against accidental loss by backing it up frequently. To do this, follow these steps:

  • Establish a regular schedule: Based on your organization’s operational requirements, determine a frequency for backing up your data. For example, you may conduct backups daily, weekly, or monthly, depending on the amount of data collected and how often it’s stored.
  • Automate data backups: To ensure timely and consistent backups, leverage technology that automates the process according to your predefined schedule. Choose industry-specific software that automates workflows according to your organization’s goals. For example, a healthcare organization may look to automate patient care impact measurements or patient follow-up messages to maintain an updated and secure information exchange.
  • Maintain backups: Monitor your organization’s backup logs to catch any potential error messages or backup failures. Also, keep an eye on your data storage needs as the organization’s backups grow over time.

As you regularly back up your organization’s data, document any relevant procedures for scheduling or recovery. Additionally, provide training for staff members to ensure your entire team is synced on backup protocols.

Data privacy requirements vary according to your organization’s database, operations, and industry. Remember to consult industry associations, government websites, legal counsel, and other resources for more details on data privacy regulations as needed.