Navigating IT Compliance: A Guide for Nonprofits

By Margaret Concannon | May 28, 2024
Margaret is the Content Marketing Manager at Ntiva, and has been a marketer for managed services providers since 2013.

Keeping member data safe isn’t just another item on the to-do list for nonprofits organizations—it’s the cornerstone of trust. For IT directors and managers, it’s about more than just checking boxes; it’s about securing a foundation of reliability that members depend on.

When members feel confident their data is in safe hands, their engagement and support are bound to increase. 

But let’s be honest—this isn’t always easy. Nonprofit and associations typically have tight budgets. This means every dollar needs to stretch further, often at the expense of updated tech and tools. IT teams are small and mighty, but even they can be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks. And just when you think you’ve got a handle on the latest laws and regulations, they go and change on you. 

Despite these tough challenges, strong IT compliance is non-negotiable—it's crucial for safeguarding the trust your organization is built on. Let’s explore how nonprofits and associations can keep their IT practices sharp and their member data secure despite these obstacles.

7 Key Points for IT Leaders: Step-by-Step Guide to Simplifying IT Compliance 

Tackling IT compliance can feel like navigating a dense forest. Let's clear the path forward and examine the regulatory landscape that may affect your nonprofit or association, along with the key steps needed for success.

Step #1: Understand Your Regulatory Landscape 

Nonprofit regulatory standards

Start by diving into the regulations that directly impact your operations. Here’s a quick overview of key regulations that may affect nonprofits and associations, detailing who they apply to and what they entail: 

  • GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation): Organizations handling personal data from EU individuals must adhere to strict privacy rules, ensuring data access, correction, deletion rights, and mandatory rapid breach reporting. 
  • HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act): U.S. healthcare providers, plans, and those processing health information must protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of health information with rigorous safeguards. 
  • PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard): Entities dealing with credit card information are required to maintain high network security, enforce strict access control, and perform ongoing monitoring. 
  • COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act: Services and websites collecting information from children under 13 must obtain parental consent, maintain transparent privacy policies, and ensure high data security standards. 
  • FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act): Educational institutions receiving federal funding must protect student records and cannot disclose information without explicit consent from parents or eligible students. 
  • SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley Act): Public companies and nonprofits issuing public debt need to follow stringent financial auditing and reporting rules to prevent fraud and protect investors. 
  • ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act): Employers with 15 or more employees must prevent discrimination based on disabilities and ensure accessibility in the workplace and public spaces. 
  • CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act): Businesses serving California residents that meet specific data handling or revenue criteria must provide rights to data access, deletion, and disclosure to protect consumer privacy. 

RELATED READING: The Importance of Complying with Data Privacy and Protection Laws

Step #2: Develop a Compliance Roadmap  

Now that you know what you’re up against, it’s time to map it out. Creating a compliance roadmap isn’t just about ticking boxes—it’s about making a plan that’s easy to follow and fits into your organizational strategy. Break it down by quarters: 

  • Q1: Kick off with a thorough review of all relevant regulations and update your policies where needed. 
  • Q2: Make the necessary tweaks to your IT infrastructure and get everyone up to speed with training sessions. 
  • Q3: Run internal checks to spot any compliance slips and tighten things up as needed. 
  • Q4: Gear up for external reviews if they’re on the horizon, and adjust your plans for the next cycle based on feedback. 

This step-by-step approach isn’t just about staying compliant—it’s about making compliance a seamless part of your day-to-day so you can focus on what really matters: your mission. For a helping hand in getting started, grab our IT Compliance Roadmap here:

CTA-IT Compliance Roadmap for Nonprofits and Associations (2) 

Step #3: Implement Strong Data Governance Policies  

For nonprofits and associations, data is more than just bits and bytes—it’s the foundation of trust and confidentiality. Establishing and maintaining robust data governance policies are critical for managing and safeguarding this essential asset effectively. Your governance policies should include the following:  

  • Controlling Data Access: Use identity and access management policies to establish detailed user roles and permissions and clearly define who can access different types of data and keep sensitive information secure.  
  • Managing Data Usage: Set strict rules on how data can be used within your organization to prevent misuse and ensure compliance with legal and ethical standards.  
  • Securing Data: Implement comprehensive security measures such as encryption, secure storage, and regular audits to protect data from unauthorized access and breaches.  
  • Promoting Awareness and Training: Regular security awareness training is essential to ensure all staff understand and correctly implement these policies. Conduct engaging sessions highlighting data governance's importance through practical examples and scenarios.  

Governance Policy dummyMake Sure to Document Your Data Governance Policy  

Creating a clear, accessible document for your data management policies is essential. Update it regularly to keep up with regulatory changes and organizational needs and ensure everyone follows the same data governance standards.  

To illustrate what a robust data governance policy might look like, look at our fictitious association called GreenPath:   Governance Policy dummy

Step #4: Regularly Audit and Assess IT Infrastructure 

Maintaining your IT infrastructure isn't just about compliance standards but actively safeguarding your operations. Regular audits play a critical role in this proactive strategy by:  

  • Meeting Compliance Requirements: Regular audits verify adherence to policies and regulatory compliance requirements, keeping your operations in line.  
  • Identifying Vulnerabilities: These audits help detect potential issues early, allowing you to address and mitigate risks before they escalate.  
  • Maintaining IT Integrity: Continuous monitoring and assessment fortify your security measures and data protection strategies.  

Regular audits not only strengthen your security but also foster a culture of continuous improvement and trust, highlighting your commitment to secure data management. 

CTA-Infrastructure Management

Step #5: Leverage Technology to Automate Compliance Tasks 

By incorporating powerful compliance management tools like Microsoft Purview Compliance Manager, cloud-based AWS compliance solutions, along with versatile work management platforms such as Airtable or Smartsheet, you can significantly streamline and automate your compliance processes. These tools not only simplify the complexities of compliance but also enhance efficiency across your organization. 

Microsoft Purview Compliance Manager automates risk assessments and integrates smoothly with your existing Microsoft 365 setup, enhancing your compliance efforts without disrupting your workflow.  

AWS Compliance tools offer robust data protection features that ensure your organization meets stringent standards like GDPR and HIPAA, all while facilitating seamless collaboration.  

Additionally, work management tools like Airtable and Smartsheet can transform the daunting task of documentation and compliance tracking into a manageable, efficient process with customizable workflows and real-time updates. Together, these tools not only simplify compliance but also free up your resources, allowing you to focus on driving forward your mission. 

Step #6: Engage with Compliance Experts and Legal Advisors  

Navigating compliance can be tricky, so teaming up with legal advisors and compliance experts is vital. They can help you tailor strategies to keep you ahead of regulations, protecting your mission and the trust of those you serve. Here are the 10 key questions to kick off your discussions with your advisors:    

10 Essential Questions to Ask Your Compliance and Legal Advisors: 

  1. What specific regulations are applicable to our organization? 
  2. How do recent or upcoming legislative changes affect our compliance obligations? 
  3. What are the risks of non-compliance for each applicable regulation? 
  4. What best practices should we follow to ensure compliance with these regulations? 
  5. What specific steps should we take to improve our data protection and cybersecurity measures? 
  6. Are our current IT policies and procedures adequate, and how can they be improved? 
  7. What training do our staff need to ensure compliance, and when should it be updated? 
  8. How should we handle data breaches or non-compliance incidents? 
  9. What documentation should we maintain to prove compliance? 
  10. Can you help us perform a comprehensive compliance audit and identify areas for improvement? 

By asking these questions, you ensure that your compliance efforts are thorough, up-to-date, and effective, safeguarding your organization’s integrity and furthering its mission. 

Step # 7: Foster a Culture of Compliance  

Cultivating a culture that values compliance and ethical behavior makes a huge difference. It's about making sure compliance isn't just another item on a checklist but a key part of your day-to-day operations. You can embed a culture of compliance by:  

  • Offering Regular Training: Keep everyone in the loop with engaging, ongoing training sessions. Make sure they're practical so your team can see how these rules apply directly to their roles.  
  • Rewards for Compliance: Recognize and reward team members who stick to the rules or find smart ways to improve your processes. A little appreciation goes a long way.  
  • Leading by Example: When leaders emphasize the importance of compliance, it resonates throughout the organization. Make sure your leaders are visible in their support and participation.  

Building a culture of compliance doesn’t just help avoid trouble—it strengthens your entire organization, making it a better, safer place to work.    

IT Compliance as a Strategic Edge  

IT leaders: commit to consistently refining your strategies. Empowering your team with the right tools and knowledge makes what once seemed overwhelming easily manageable. By following a clear roadmap (download our template here), implementing effective policies, and asking the right questions, you proactively position your organization to address compliance challenges.  

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Tags: Cybersecurity, Compliance