Key Aspects of Security in Donation Processing

I’ve been involved in fundraising for over 17 years, working initially in data entry and other front and back-end services. Early on in my career I wrote standard operating procedures for donation processing at the American Red Cross. From my perspective, security in donation processing is hugely important.

My philosophy is a variation of the Golden Rule: to treat donors’ information as I’d want my own sensitive information treated. This kind of integrity is very important on the part of those of us who handle donation processing since we possess and are privy to so much personal information.

Before networked communications, security remained behind the scenes. Now, with our interlinked systems and stories of data breaches in the media, paying attention to security has become vitally important. Developments in technology over the years have enabled a high degree of automation, which helps from a security perspective. I can remember when we used to use fax machines, with few to no security features, to transmit information. Anyone could see the documents and the information contained in them. Now data is encrypted and transferred using secure File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and other processes. Another advantage of advances in technology is greater accuracy and efficiency in capturing and storing data securely. Our ability to securely store data in large databases, while still not completely beyond the reach of malicious hackers, is immensely better and continues to improve.

We see security considerations affecting how donors choose to give as well. Older donors are less inclined to use credit cards to donate, or divulge sensitive information over the phone. They would rather write a check and feel more secure providing information through the mail. As you might expect, younger donors use credit cards willingly, as well as other means like texting and virtual payment applications such as Venmo and Paypal. It’s important to provide a secure donation processing environment across all channels.

When you consider all the aspects of maintaining security and the increasing costs of doing so, outsourcing is an option that should be strongly considered. Making the decision whether to outsource donation processing or not depends on the size of the organization and the volume of donations. If your organization is small, and you don’t have a large donor file, then outsourcing may not be the right option for you. If your organization is larger and you receive a significant number of responses via the mail, then outsourcing should be strongly considered.  This is especially true if you accept credit or debit cards as a type of payment.

To help you decide, you can work with a donation processing vendor to assess your needs. Make sure they offer solutions tailored to fit your particular requirements. This custom approach will yield the best outcome.

Security is the number one factor to consider when deciding to keep donation processing in house or outsource it. It’s important to be open and transparent with both donors and vendors about security measures and processes for the physical handling of responses received via the mail, as well as the organization’s policies and procedures for handling the data that is captured.

Background checks on employees and the security of the physical location itself are very important. Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance at Level One (the highest) helps assure that a donation processor follows the strictest measures for ensuring the security of payment card information.

When we came to Merkle RMG, we were given a 30-page questionnaire to fill out as part of the onboarding process. It helped identify our specific concerns and allowed me to focus on what our specific needs were. In addition to providing an outline of the services they would provide, Merkle RMG staff came to our office, evaluated our needs and explained what they could offer to help meet them. This on site visit helps service providers get a sense of a potential client’s requirements and better tailor what they will do to support them.

Merkle RMG also strongly encouraged us to visit their facility which gave us a great opportunity to see first-hand their comprehensive approach to maintaining security at the highest level. Based on my experience, I can tell you that no other donation processing company provides the same level of security for funds, data and the physical plant itself that Merkle RMG does.

Are you curious to learn more about your donation processing security? Take Merkle RMG’s security survey at