The Institute of Fundraising has called on the government to provide a "GDPR hotline" to help charities prepare for its implementation next year.
The membership body has written to Matthew Hancock, the digital minister, calling on him to ensure that charities receive the same level of support as businesses and other organisations to prepare for the General Data Protection Regulation, more stringent data-protection rules that come into force in May.
The IoF said it also wanted Hancock to provide a GDPR hotline for charities from six months before the legislation comes into force and a targeted scheme to help charities upgrade their database systems.
It called on the government to raise awareness of the changes among smaller charities and to work with sector bodies to offer more data-protection training.
The IoF penned the letter after a survey, carried out by the IoF and published today, found that nearly half of charities felt they lacked the internal expertise needed to prepare for the introduction of the GDPR.
Of the 332 charities that responded to the survey, 72 per cent said they felt there was a lack of clear guidance available on the GDPR, and 48 per cent said they did not feel they had the level of internal skills and expertise they needed to prepare properly.
The IoF survey found that the problem was particularly acute for small and medium-sized charities, with 49.5 per cent of small charities and 58 per cent of medium-sized organisations saying they lacked expertise, compared with 29 per cent of large charities.
And 33 per cent of small charities said they had not done anything to review data protection or prepare for the GDPR, compared with 3 per cent of medium-sized charities.
All of the larger charities polled said they had begun preparing, but almost no charities of any size said they believed they were ready for the introduction of the GDPR.
Peter Lewis, chief executive of the IoF, said: "A large majority of charities are working to prepare for data protection changes, but there is a clear need for much more support, especially for smaller organisations.
"It is really important that sector bodies, regulators and the government all step up to help raise awareness of the changes and to ensure there is support in place to help charities through this transition."
He said the IoF would be developing support materials and webinars in the months to come, but a wider approach was needed across the sector.
Mandy Johnson, chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition, said the results did not surprise her.
"The GDPR is a complex regulation and there has not been enough support to help hard-working volunteers and charity workers to understand exactly what they need to do," she said. "The SCC is working to change that."
Vicky Browning, chief executive of the charity leaders body Acevo, said the findings reflected concerns Acevo was hearing from its members about a lack of resources and in-house skills to tackle the GDPR.
"Members from larger charities tell us they’re having to divert significant funds to deal with the challenge, but this isn’t an option for smaller organisations," she said. "The sector is crying out for clearer guidance."
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport was unable to respond in time for Third Sector’s deadline on Friday morning.