Is your organization ready for GDPR?

A version of this article was first published at and is reprinted here with permission.

Do you have European constituents in your databases? If so, there are new laws that may apply to your organization called the GDPR or General Data Protection Regulations.

And if you think they don’t apply to you because yours is a US-based organization, keep reading because they do.

Before we dive into what GDPR is all about, let me point out that I am not a lawyer. My interpretation of GDPR should be considered with that in mind. That said, much of what is outlined here jibes with what we’re hearing from various experts.

What is GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) are laws designed to make sure people have control over their personal information and what it is being used for. The laws cover how people are informed of how the data is used, how they consent to its use (or limit use), the right to “be forgotten,” to export their data, and to seek damages if they suffer from misuse or breach of their data. It means that organizations need to receive explicit permission to store personal data, store it responsibly, and be transparent about how they are storing it.

What qualifies as “personal information”?

  • Names
  • Addresses
  • Email addresses
  • IP addresses
  • Identification numbers
  • Biometric identifiers (fingerprints, iris patterns, DNA)
  • Physical or physiological attributes
  • Occupation
  • Location
  • Medical/health information
  • Website cookies

Who does this affect?

GDPR will affect any organization that:

  • Collects personal data or behavioral information from a citizen of the European Union (EU) for any purpose, whether that be membership, advocacy, fundraising, programs, marketing or even HR if you have EU employees
  • Targets a person in an EU country, such as marketing in their language and references specific to EU residents
  • Accepts currency of an EU country
  • Has a domain suffix of an EU country

Who is not affected?

  • Organizations who do generic marketing that an EU citizen randomly happens to see sees (such as an online ad or a website they come across using a search engine)—so you’re not deliberately targeting them
  • English-language websites or ads written for US consumers or B2B customers that an EU citizen sees

When does this go into effect?

May 25, 2018

What happens if you can’t meet the deadline?

You could potentially incur fines of up to 20M Euro or 4% of global annual revenue

How will the laws be governed?

It’s our understanding that an organization could be audited. I do not know what the likelihood or basis for the audit would be, but I imagine something like a high incidence of consumer complaints could kick one off. It would also be a reasonable expectation that high-profile companies and NGOs could be on the auditors’ radar.

What do we do now?

Due to the potential for serious fines and penalties, we recommend that all organizations—even those that are US-based and deliver services only in the US—should conduct an assessment of their own data processes to identify if GDPR applies to them.

The first step is to determine whether someone in your organization has the responsibility for data protection. If so, touch base with them and see if this is on their radar and what their plan is. If there is no one specifically responsible for data protection at your organization, reach out to senior leadership and make sure that GDPR is on their radar. These new regulations go into effect soon, so time is of the essence.

The next step is to do an assessment on what you have today and how well it’s meeting the GDPR regulations:

  • Data (what do we have, where is it, who has access to it, etc.)
  • Security (how are the databases protected, what are our procedures, etc.)
  • Contracts (with third-party vendors who have access to or process the data)
  • Privacy policies
  • Cookie policies

Once you have your arms around what you have now and where you are not meeting GDPR regulations, you can make a plan for what needs to change.

Want to learn more?

As you seek more information on GDPR and how it applies to your organization, here are some third-party resources that I have found particularly useful. Don’t forget that your senior leadership, legal counsel, and the person responsible for data security are important internal resources to help you plan for and comply with GDPR.

In-depth explanations:

Articles and blog posts with advice and guidance:


Join Lynn and her colleague Rosa del Angel, as well as John Mix from Human Rights Watch, to talk more about GDPR and nonprofits at NTEN’s Town Hall, May 22.

Lynn Labieniec
As CEO and co-founder of Beaconfire RED, Lynn has provided strategy and guidance for some of the country's largest nonprofits such as the League of Women Voters, ALS Association, Feeding America, Ocean Conservancy, Audubon, Inova Health Systems, and others. She has been working on tech and digital challenges for social good since 1980. For the last 15 years, she has focused primarily on web and mobile and how they can help organizations meet their goals. Lynn served for many years on the board of NTEN. Prior experience includes Commerce One's Nonprofit Leadership Team, RivCom Limited (a UK-based consultancy specializing in XML technologies), Blackbaud (a global provider of software and services designed specifically for nonprofits), and IBM.