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GDPR guide for associations, societies and membership organisations

Written by Andy Pearson

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As a membership organisation you hold lots of personal information and it is important to do this in a responsible and legal manner. 

This post explains in plain language the key requirements relevant to the marketing activities of UK associations, societies and other membership organisations so that you can be confident you are in full compliance.  

Introducing (the) GDPR

Data protection legislation that applies to membership and voluntary organisations is based on The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force in the UK from 25 May 2018 (enacted into UK law through the Data Protection Act 2018) and lays out general rules about data protection. 

The GDPR contains no exemptions for non-profit organisations. This post addresses common questions about GDPR relevant to non-profit organisations like clubs, associations, societies and charities.  

Why your organisation should care

You should care for two reasons:

  • First the carrot: the legislation contains sensible provisions to make life better for individuals. By ensuring compliance you should also be improving the quality of experience that people have when they engage with your organisation. 
  • Second the stick: there are substantial fines for non-compliance.

What do I need to know?

As you communicate with your members you don’t need to know everything about the legislation but you need to be aware of certain key points. 

Principle-based not rule-based

The old Data Protection Act 1998 was a principle-based legal structure and the GDPR continues that approach. This means that rather than a set of rigid rules, the law gives broad principles that will be applied differently by different organisations depending on their circumstances. 

Here are the six data protection principles contained in the GDPR:

✔ Lawfulness, fairness and transparency

✔ Purpose limitations

✔ Data minimisation

✔ Accuracy

✔ Storage limitations

✔ Integrity and confidentiality

Many of these GDPR principles are similar to the preceding data protection principles but we’ll discuss below some key data protection changes. We have a post and free template explaining what to include in your Data Protection Policy.

To process data you need a ‘lawful basis’ 

The GDPR sets out six lawful bases for processing personal data:     

  • Consent – the individual has given clear consent for you to process their personal data for a specific purpose. More on that in the next section.
  • Contract – the processing is necessary for a contract you have with the individual, or because they have asked you to take specific steps before entering into a contract.
  • Legal obligation – the processing is necessary to comply with the law.
  • Vital interests – the processing is necessary to protect someone’s life.
  • Public task – the processing is necessary for you to perform a task in the public interest or for your official functions, and the task or function has a clear basis in law.
  • Legitimate interests – the processing is necessary for your legitimate interests or the legitimate interests of a third party unless there is a good reason to protect the individual’s personal data which overrides those legitimate interests.

GDPR – the importance of consent

Some of the data processed by non-profit organisations will be covered by the ‘contract’ or ‘legitimate interests’ bases and in those cases no consent is needed. But most marketing activity done by non-profit organisations will rely on consent as its lawful basis.

Consent means offering people genuine choice and control over how you use their data and the new rules are much clearer about exactly what this means. 

Under GDPR, consent must be:

  • Unbundled – separate from general terms and conditions
  • Active opt-in – no pre-ticked boxes
  • Named – clear who is given consent; not just ‘third parties’
  • Documented – records are kept of the consent)
  • Easy to withdraw 

The GDPR also introduces special considerations to make privacy information clear when targeting children.

How does GDPR affect my members?

Collecting member information

When you collect member information on your website you must give the member clear information about how you will treat their data. As part of your contract with your members you can contact them about their memberhip but for marketing activities you’ll need to ask them to give clear consent for a specific purpose. If you don’t get consent at this point, through a clear opt-in, then you don’t have permission to use that data for marketing. For example, on a membership form, you will need an unchecked checkbox asking whether the donor would like to receive updates about events, etc.

On newsletter subscription forms you’ll need to explain clearly what the subscriber will receive. 

Storing supporter information

Storing information securely is already important and will only become more so. GDPR requires you to keep records demonstrating that your supporters have actively opted in. This means that across all the systems in which you store personal data you need to also be storing communication preferences and be able to associate those preferences with the communication through which the supporter actively opted-in. This will require a new level of integration and data management for many small organisations.

A simple solution to this will be to store a note on the person’s record in your charity database or membership management software, referencing the way they signed up and how they opted in. However, you will also need a robust system for managing changes in preferences when requested by supporters. Many email marketing systems offer these as standard, though bringing that data back to your database can be difficult. A manual approach would be to run monthly reports from your email marketing software listing who has unsubscribed. Users of White Fuse can manage everything in one place from consent collection on forms to email recipients managing their communication preferences. 

Communicating with supporters

When you send communications to supporters you will need to be confident that they have opted-in to the particular type of communication you are about to send. Knowing this relies on robust integration between all the systems you use, as mentioned in the last section. You must also be confident that you are giving your supporters a simple way to opt out of communications. For email newsletters, this should come in the form of an ‘unsubscribe’ or ‘manage preferences’ link at the bottom of the email. 

Existing members and contacts

GDPR applies to historical data, not just data that has been collected after GDPR came into force. Depending on the quality of your existing systems and the way you collected data in the past, this means you may have to pro-actively contact your existing members and contacts to ensure that they have actively opted-in to your organisation’s marketing communications. 

Do I need a Data Protection Officer?

You already need to have someone in your organisation responsible for data protection and the GDPR does not change that. However, it does introduce a new more formal role called a Data Protection Officer (DPO). This role is unlikely to be required in most small organisations. A DPO must be appointed if you:

  • are a public authority;
  • carry out large-scale systematic monitoring of individuals (for example, online behaviour tracking); or
  • carry out large-scale processing of special categories of data or data relating to criminal convictions and offences.

GDPR compliance summary

  • Written policy – Adopt a written policy in which you document your approach to data protection in your organisation.
  • Specify management responsibility – assign someone responsibility for organisation data protection and document this in your written policy.
  • Staff training – regularly offer staff training on practical data protection issues like clearing out old information, keeping their access passwords secure, etc. 
  • Registration with ICO – register your organisation with ICO as an organisation that processes personal data.
  • Privacy notices – make your privacy policy clear on your website and all the forms through which you collect personal data.
  • Responding to requests – adopt a written policy to deal with requests individuals may make to access their personal data or have it removed from your systems.
  • Appropriate collection – audit your systems to ensure the data you collect is (a) the minimum data for legitimate business need and (b) kept up-to-date.
  • Appropriate disposal – include within your written policy details about how you will ensure that unused and out-of-date data will be safely disposed of.
  • Security – include within your written policy the steps you have taken and will take to ensure the systems you use to process data are secure.
  • Outsourcing – you are responsible for data processed on your behalf by a third party so check that their processing is also compliant.

Download the checklist

We have condensed this post into a checklist for easy reference. If you find this useful please consider sharing this post.

Download the GDPR checklist

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