How Well Does Your Ministry Secure Personal Data?

Churches—and other ministries, as well—commonly store a variety of personal information about their members and the people who support them. Mailing lists and donation records may be the most familiar repositories of personal information; however, the average church database is also likely to include Social Security numbers and payment card information.

Unsecured, this data could make church members vulnerable to criminals—putting church and ministry members at risk. What can you do to protect your members’ personal information? Start with these suggestions.

Improve physical security

How you and your staff handle information will go a long way to safeguarding the personal information you maintain about your members and your church or ministry.

  • Shred documents with person information before throwing them away.
  • Use secured mailboxes or a post office box to send and receive business mail.
  • Ensure that you have a member’s permission before providing personal information about them. Even when a church or ministry member calls or emails asking for personal information they have previously provided to you, ensure that you verify their identity before releasing the information.
  • Store all records in locked cabinets.
  • Limit access to sensitive information.
  • Train your office staff to protect the confidentiality and security of personal information.
  • Lock your facility; set alarms.

Improve computer security

In today’s electronic age, your computer system can be a prime target of would-be hackers and other information thieves. Protect your system. If you can’t do it yourself, get the technical help you need.

  • Find an established, reputable computer support company that comes highly recommended.
  • Ensure that your operating system is always up to date. This is your first line of defense.
  • Use virus and spyware protection—even if you have a one-computer office.
  • Update virus definitions regularly and scan computers for malicious software.
  • Install a dependable firewall.
  • Encrypt your wireless network.
  • Back up records frequently. Store backups in a secure, off-site location to protect your ministry from losing records to computer breaches and other events, including natural disasters.
  • Change passwords frequently and limit access to select staff members or volunteers.

Never take protecting personal information lightly. The integrity of your administrative and financial practices is always worth the effort you take to maintain information security. By carefully managing your members’ personal information, you are not only exercising good business practices, but you also are protecting your church or ministry from crippling data losses, embarrassing public disclosures, and potential lawsuits.