Have You: Drafted A Confidentiality Agreement?

Do you collect the addresses of donors and supporters?  Financial information? Check images? Personal information such as family size and income?

Now the important question, do you have a means of ensuring that people don”t go posting this information on the internet, talking to their friends or blabbing to the press?

The answer is probably not. If there is one thing I”ve seen systematically missing in many organizations, it”s a confidentiality agreement. But think about it. We now have phones the size of candy-bars that can take photos and neatly package these pictures for distribution all over the world in a matter of seconds. And the minute someone finds out that their address or bank information has been disclosed by one of your people who do you think they”re going to come after? Yup, you.

So why not try to mitigate this with a couple sheets of paper? Anytime you have volunteers around personal or sensitive data, it doesn”t hurt to have them sign an agreement guaranteeing that they will not disclose that information to anyone else. Of course there is the possibility something will slip through. But the point is to distance your organization from any wrongdoing should  anything happen to go wrong. And by having this paper in place, you tell the world that you don”t tolerate that kind of behavior. That you take the protection of personal data seriously, and are intent on keep such sensitive information in confidence. This definitely gives you a leg to stand on in court.

If you”ve never drafted a confidentiality agreement before, here”s a few considerations to get you started…..

1. Sit down and determine what you want to be confidential information. Try not to be too specific, but try not to be too broad either (I know). In other words, list out things so its clear what your position is, but make clear that this list “includes, but is not limited to….” those things listed. This gives you a little leeway in case you forget to list, or can”t think of, something.  Without a true grasp of what constitutes as confidential, the rest of the agreement is meaningless. Make sure that whatever you come up with is defined at the beginning and used consistently throughout.

2. At this point, you might also want to decide whether you want to address media requests. What should someone do online casino if the media contacts them? Do you want them to give a blanket statement or not respond at all? Who should your people direct the media to?

3. Explain how  confidential information may be used. Do you want to allow use to broadly encompass whatever it takes for your people to fulfill their responsibilities? Or restrict use to specific instances?  And for what purposes can confidential information not be used? Are there certain uses that you believe should be prohibited (i.e. unauthorized solicitation or personal use?)

4. Who may confidential information be disclosed to and who can”t confidential information be disclosed to? If anyone has a question as to whether something is confidential information, or whether they are allowed to disclose it to a certain person, who can they ask?

5. Focus on explaining why confidential information should never be disclosed. Drive home that failure to adhere to your policy could lead to irreparable damage to donor relationships, loss of respect in the community and possible civil/and or criminal liability.

6. If confidential information absolutely has to be disclosed, make sure to provide a vehicle by which employees and volunteers may do so. List what would require mandatory disclosure (such as a court order or government investigation). Is there someone people should contact when mandatory disclosure comes up? What must they obtain from this person before disclosing anything?

7. Require that you be notified if confidential information is leaked or improperly used. Specify by what time you must be notified and how you must be notified.

8. Lay out best practices. For example, how best can employees or volunteers keep confidential information secret?  How should confidential information be destroyed? Where and how should confidential information be kept? The more descriptive you are, the more cognizant people will be and the less likely it is that information will get disclosed.

9. When does the right to use confidential information cease? Termination? Suspension? Sabbatical? What must one do upon any of these events? Turn over all confidential information? And if so, to who?

Now keep in mind. Having a confidentiality agreement agreement will do you little good if you don”t have the processes in place. Consequently, if you let people leave bank information all out, use computers with no passwords or talk on speakerphone with their girlfriends about how much that new cute donor made last year then this piece of paper will not mean quite as much. So before you go through the trouble of drafting an agreement, make sure you have the resources in place to ensure this agreement means something.

Should the week become a little less crazy, I”ll probably post an example of a Confidentiality Agreement that I”ve seen non-profits use.


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