Beginner’s Guide to Cybersecurity for Nonprofits


Cybersecurity for nonprofits is a growing concern as these organizations manage sensitive donor information, financial records, and personal data. Unfortunately, nonprofits are often seen as easy targets by cybercriminals due to their limited cybersecurity defenses.

Here’s a quick overview:
Nonprofits are vulnerable because they lack dedicated IT staff and resources.
Common threats include data breaches, ransomware, and phishing.
To protect your nonprofit, create and maintain robust security policies and training programs.

Nonprofits, like any organization, need to safeguard their data to maintain trust with donors and ensure smooth operations. However, many face specific challenges:

  • Limited cybersecurity expertise: Most nonprofits lack dedicated IT departments.
  • Third-party service providers: External vendors can introduce additional vulnerabilities.
  • Lack of awareness: Many nonprofits underestimate the risks of cyberattacks.

Given these challenges, it’s no surprise that 68% of nonprofits don’t have documented cybersecurity policies, and many allow staff to use unsecured personal devices. This makes them prime targets for attacks.

To make your nonprofit safer, fostering a culture of security across the organization is vital. This includes regular staff training and setting up robust security measures to protect sensitive information.

Key Statistics on Nonprofit Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities - cybersecurity for nonprofits infographic infographic-line-3-steps

Understanding Nonprofit Cybersecurity Needs

Cybersecurity for nonprofits is more important than ever. Nonprofits handle a lot of sensitive information, making them a goldmine for cybercriminals. Let’s break down why nonprofits are such attractive targets and what you can do to protect your organization.

Digital World

The shift to digital operations has made managing data easier but also riskier. Nonprofits store valuable information online, from donor details to financial records. This convenience comes with the risk of cyberattacks, which can disrupt operations and damage trust.

Sensitive Information

Nonprofits often manage highly sensitive data, including:

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  • Personal information: Names, addresses, and contact details of donors, volunteers, and beneficiaries.
  • Financial information: Credit card numbers, bank account details, and donation records.
  • Health information: Medical records for organizations linked to healthcare.

This data is not only sensitive but also regulated by laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU and various state laws in the U.S.

Fact: According to the 2023 Nonprofit Tech for Good Report, 27% of nonprofits worldwide have fallen victim to cyberattacks.

Goldmine for Cybercriminals

Cybercriminals see nonprofits as easy targets for several reasons:

  • Limited cybersecurity expertise: Many nonprofits lack dedicated IT staff, making it tough to implement strong security measures.
  • Dependence on third-party vendors: Using external services for fundraising or cloud storage can introduce vulnerabilities if those vendors aren’t secure.
  • Lack of awareness: Some nonprofits underestimate the risk, thinking they are less likely to be targeted than larger organizations.

Statistic: A report by NTEN revealed that 68% of nonprofits don’t have documented cybersecurity policies, and 71% allow staff to use unsecured personal devices.

Real-World Example

Consider a small nonprofit that helps low-income families. They store donor information, including credit card details, on a cloud service. Without proper security measures, a cybercriminal could hack into this system, stealing sensitive data and causing significant harm.

What Can You Do?

  1. Conduct a Risk Assessment: Identify what sensitive data you have, where it’s stored, and who has access.
  2. Implement Data Security Protocols: Use encryption, secure passwords, and multi-factor authentication.
  3. Educate Your Team: Regular training on cybersecurity best practices and potential threats.
  4. Develop an Incident Response Plan: Be prepared to act quickly in the event of a data breach.

By understanding these needs and taking proactive steps, you can significantly improve your nonprofit’s cybersecurity posture and protect the valuable information you hold.

Next, we’ll explore Common Cybersecurity Threats for Nonprofits to help you identify and prepare for the specific types of attacks your organization might face.

Common Cybersecurity Threats for Nonprofits

To protect your nonprofit from cyber threats, understand the types of attacks you’re likely to face. Here are some of the most common cybersecurity threats for nonprofits:


Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts your data, making it inaccessible until you pay a ransom to the attackers. Nonprofits are attractive targets because they often have valuable data but limited cybersecurity resources.

For example, imagine your nonprofit’s donor database gets encrypted by ransomware. You can’t access any donor information until you pay the ransom. This can severely disrupt your operations and damage your reputation.

Warning signs of a ransomware attack:

  • Unexpected file encryption
  • Ransom notes demanding payment
  • Unusual computer slowdown

Social Engineering

Social engineering attacks manipulate individuals into divulging confidential information. These attacks often exploit human error rather than technical vulnerabilities.

An example is a phishing email that appears to be from a trusted source, prompting an employee to click a malicious link or provide sensitive information. A lack of proper training and resources makes nonprofits particularly vulnerable to these attacks.

Common social engineering tactics:

  • Phishing emails
  • Pretexting (creating a fabricated scenario)
  • Baiting (offering something enticing to get information)

Data Breaches from Employees

Data breaches can occur due to employee negligence or malicious intent. Employees might mishandle sensitive data, share credentials, or fall victim to phishing schemes, leading to unauthorized access.

Consider a scenario where an employee accidentally sends sensitive donor information to the wrong email address. This could expose confidential data and lead to significant legal and reputational consequences.

Ways to prevent employee-related data breaches:

  • Regular training on data handling
  • Strict access controls
  • Monitoring and logging of data access

Malicious Software

Malicious software (malware) includes viruses, trojans, and spyware that can infiltrate computers or mobile devices connected to your nonprofit’s network. This software can steal, encrypt, or delete sensitive information.

For instance, a virus might infect your nonprofit’s computers, leading to data corruption and operational disruptions. The recovery process can be time-consuming and costly.

Symptoms of malware infection:

  • Unusual computer behavior
  • Frequent crashes
  • Unauthorized data access or transfer

Understanding these common cybersecurity threats for nonprofits is the first step in protecting your organization. Next, we’ll look at Best Practices for Strengthening Nonprofit Cybersecurity to help you build a robust defense against these threats.

Best Practices for Strengthening Nonprofit Cybersecurity

Building a strong cybersecurity foundation is essential for nonprofits. Let’s dive into some best practices that can help safeguard your organization.

Risk Assessment

The first step in bolstering your cybersecurity is conducting a thorough risk assessment. This process involves identifying your nonprofit’s valuable assets, potential vulnerabilities, and the threats you face.

Steps for risk assessment:
1. Inventory your assets: List all devices, software, and data.
2. Identify vulnerabilities: Look for weak points in your systems.
3. Assess threats: Determine what could exploit those vulnerabilities.
4. Prioritize risks: Focus on the most critical issues first.

For example, the Midwest Assistance Program successfully avoided a hacking scheme by identifying their vulnerabilities and addressing them promptly.

Data Protection

Protecting your data is crucial. This means implementing strong security measures to ensure that sensitive information remains confidential and intact.

Key data protection strategies:
Encryption: Encrypt sensitive data both in transit and at rest.
Secure passwords: Use strong, unique passwords and change them regularly.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA): Add an extra layer of security by requiring multiple forms of verification.

Consider the case of a nonprofit that implemented MFA and strong password policies, significantly reducing unauthorized access incidents.

Third-Party Service Providers

Nonprofits often rely on third-party vendors for various services. It’s essential to ensure these providers follow robust cybersecurity practices.

Best practices for third-party vendors:
Vendor assessment: Evaluate their security measures before partnering.
Contracts: Include cybersecurity requirements in contracts.
Regular audits: Periodically review their security practices.

By implementing these measures, you can minimize the risk of a third-party breach affecting your organization.

Awareness and Prioritization

Creating a culture of cybersecurity awareness within your nonprofit is vital. Educate your staff and volunteers about the importance of cybersecurity and how to recognize potential threats.

Effective awareness strategies:
Regular training: Conduct engaging and interactive training sessions.
Phishing simulations: Use real-life scenarios to teach staff how to spot phishing attempts.
Clear policies: Document and communicate cybersecurity policies and procedures.

For instance, nonprofits that regularly train their staff on cybersecurity best practices and conduct phishing simulations are better equipped to prevent social engineering attacks.

By following these best practices, you can significantly strengthen your nonprofit’s cybersecurity. Next, we’ll explore Implementing Cybersecurity Measures to put these practices into action.

Implementing Cybersecurity Measures

Now that we have covered best practices, let’s dive into the specific cybersecurity measures your nonprofit can implement. These measures will help protect your organization from cyber threats and ensure you maintain a secure digital environment.

Training and Education

Cybersecurity training is crucial for nonprofits. Many cyberattacks exploit human error, so educating your team is a top priority.

Regular Training Sessions:
– Conduct training sessions on recognizing phishing emails, the importance of strong passwords, and secure internet practices.
– Use interactive quizzes and real-life scenarios to make the training engaging.

Example: Midwest Assistance Program avoided a hacking scheme because they had a well-trained team who knew the steps to take during a cyber incident. As one staff member said, “It can be really unnerving to have this happen, and it is just really nice to have someone next to us to say ‘here’s the next step, here’s what we’re doing, and here’s what you need to do.’”

Phishing Simulations:
– Regularly run simulated phishing campaigns to test and improve employee awareness.
– Share results and provide additional training where needed.

Policies and Procedures

Clear and well-documented policies and procedures form the backbone of a strong cybersecurity posture.

– Develop and document policies on acceptable use, data protection, and incident response.
– Outline roles and responsibilities for data protection and cybersecurity.

Incident Response Plan:
– Create a detailed incident response plan that outlines steps to take during a security breach.
– Conduct regular drills to ensure everyone knows their role and the procedures to follow.

Third-Party Risk Management:
– Evaluate and manage risks associated with third-party vendors.
– Ensure vendors comply with your cybersecurity standards and conduct regular audits.

Cyber Insurance

Cyber insurance can provide a safety net for nonprofits, covering costs associated with data breaches and other cyber incidents.

Why Cyber Insurance?
– Covers unforeseen costs like legal expenses, regulatory fines, and identity protection measures.
– Provides financial support for data recovery and restoration efforts.

Choosing a Policy:
– Look for policies that cover a wide range of incidents, including data breaches, ransomware attacks, and social engineering.
– Ensure the policy aligns with your organization’s specific needs and risk profile.

GDPR Compliance

If your nonprofit deals with data from EU citizens, you must comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

What is GDPR?
– GDPR is a comprehensive data privacy law that protects the personal data of EU citizens.
– Nonprofits that collect or process data from EU citizens must comply with these regulations.

Steps to Compliance:
– Conduct a data inventory to identify and document all personal data you collect.
– Implement data protection measures like encryption and access controls.
– Develop clear privacy policies and procedures for data handling and disposal.
– Train staff on GDPR requirements and ensure they understand their responsibilities.

By implementing these cybersecurity measures, your nonprofit can create a secure digital environment that supports your mission and protects your stakeholders.

Next, we’ll explore Cybersecurity Resources and Support for Nonprofits to help you find additional tools and assistance.

Cybersecurity Resources and Support for Nonprofits

Strengthening your nonprofit’s cybersecurity can feel overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. There are many resources and organizations dedicated to helping nonprofits improve their security posture. Here are some key players:

National Cybersecurity Alliance

The National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCA) is a nonprofit organization that promotes cybersecurity awareness and education. They work with stakeholders across government, industry, and civil society to foster partnerships and promote best practices.

Key Initiatives:
Cybersecurity Awareness Month: Held every October to raise public knowledge of cyber best practices.
Data Privacy Day: Celebrated on January 28th to promote privacy and data protection best practices.


NTEN is a community of nonprofit professionals who use technology to make the world a better place. They offer a wealth of resources on cybersecurity for nonprofits, including webinars, courses, and reports.

Key Offerings:
Online Courses: Covering topics from basic cybersecurity to advanced data protection strategies.
Community Forums: A place to ask questions and share knowledge with other nonprofit professionals.


CyberWarrior is dedicated to delivering hands-on cybersecurity training to people from all backgrounds. They offer bootcamps, online learning platforms, and youth summer camps, particularly targeting underserved communities.

Key Programs:
CyberWarrior Academy: Provides technical training in cybersecurity methods and procedures.
Youth Summer Camps: Engages young minds in cybersecurity, fostering the next generation of cyber professionals.


NPower focuses on advancing race and gender equity in the tech industry. They provide military veterans and young adults from underserved communities with training and job placement in technology and cybersecurity.

Key Programs:
Tech Fundamentals: A free, 23-week program offering training in IT and cybersecurity.
Advanced Certifications: Specialized training in areas like cybersecurity, cloud computing, and coding.


Funded by the Cybersecurity Education and Training Assistance Program (CETAP), CYBER.ORG equips K-12 teachers with cybersecurity curricula, lesson plans, and professional development.

Key Initiatives:
Project REACH: Provides cybersecurity education and training to K-12 students.
Project Access: Focuses on giving students from underserved communities access to cybersecurity education.

Additional Resources

  • Project REACH: Aimed at broadening cybersecurity education access.
  • Project Access: Focuses on inclusion and providing resources to underserved communities.

Taking advantage of these resources can significantly boost your nonprofit’s cybersecurity efforts. Whether it’s through training, community support, or educational programs, there’s a wealth of assistance available to help you protect your organization and its mission.

Next, we’ll dive into Frequently Asked Questions about Cybersecurity for Nonprofits to answer some common concerns and provide further guidance.

Frequently Asked Questions about Cybersecurity for Nonprofits

Do nonprofits need cybersecurity?

Absolutely. Nonprofits need cybersecurity just as much as any other organization. Why? Because they handle sensitive data such as donor information, financial records, and personal details of beneficiaries. According to the 2023 Nonprofit Tech for Good Report, 27% of nonprofits worldwide have fallen victim to cyberattacks. A data breach can lead to severe consequences, including financial loss, reputational damage, and loss of donor trust.

In fact, 68% of nonprofits do not have documented policies and procedures in place should a cyberattack occur. This lack of preparedness makes them low-hanging fruit for cybercriminals. Implementing robust cybersecurity measures is essential for protecting this data and maintaining the trust of stakeholders.

How do organizations use cybersecurity?

Organizations use cybersecurity measures to protect their digital assets and sensitive information. For nonprofits, this involves several key practices:

  • Risk Assessment: Evaluating vulnerabilities in their systems and processes.
  • Data Protection: Implementing safeguards like firewalls, anti-virus software, and encryption.
  • Incident Response: Preparing for potential cybersecurity incidents with documented procedures.
  • Recovery Plans: Ensuring the ability to restore normal operations after an attack.

For example, nonprofits often work with third-party vendors for fundraising platforms or cloud storage. These partnerships can create additional entry points for cyberattacks. Less than 50% of nonprofit organizations have internal procedures or policies in place to manage how data is shared with external agencies. By establishing and monitoring proper security protocols, nonprofits can mitigate these risks.

Why do you need cybersecurity for a charity?

Charities need cybersecurity to protect the sensitive information they manage and to ensure they can continue their mission without disruption. Nonprofits often store personal, financial, or other sensitive information about donors and clients. This data is highly valuable to cybercriminals.

Moreover, nonprofits frequently collect information from vulnerable populations like low-income families, children, and the elderly. A breach of this data can have devastating consequences.

Without proper cybersecurity measures, nonprofits risk losing the trust of their donors and beneficiaries. 71% of nonprofits allow staff members to use unsecured personal devices to access organizational emails and business files, increasing the risk of data breaches. By implementing strong cybersecurity practices, charities can protect their data, maintain donor trust, and continue to make a positive impact.

Next, we’ll look at Implementing Cybersecurity Measures to provide actionable steps you can take to protect your nonprofit.


At Cyber Command, we understand the unique challenges that nonprofits face when it comes to cybersecurity. Our mission is to ensure that your organization is not only protected but also thriving in a digital world filled with potential threats.

Proactive Planning

Cybersecurity is not a one-time effort but a continuous journey. The threats you face today may evolve tomorrow, and new types of attacks will inevitably arise. That’s why proactive planning is crucial. Regular updates to your cybersecurity measures and frequent training sessions for your staff can help safeguard your organization against emerging threats.

We recommend setting aside time for quarterly reviews of your cybersecurity policies and procedures to ensure they align with the latest best practices and threat intelligence. This proactive approach will help you stay ahead of cybercriminals and protect the sensitive information your nonprofit handles.

Culture of Security

Creating a culture of security within your organization is the best way to protect against cyberattacks. This means making cybersecurity everyone’s responsibility, from the board members to the volunteers.

Train your staff and volunteers to better spot phishing and ransomware attacks. Encourage them to report suspicious activities and seek assistance when needed. By fostering a culture where everyone is vigilant and informed, you can significantly reduce the risk of a cyberattack.

Partnering with Cyber Command

We are committed to partnering with nonprofits to navigate the complex world of cybersecurity. Our team of experts is dedicated to providing you with the tools, knowledge, and support needed to protect your critical data and maintain the trust of your donors and stakeholders.

Together, we can build a secure digital environment that supports your mission and enhances your capabilities. By embracing continuous improvement and utilizing community resources, your nonprofit can not only defend against cyber threats but also thrive in today’s digital ecosystem.

Let us help you secure your future—reach out to Cyber Command today and take a proactive step towards comprehensive cybersecurity.

For more information and to get started on your cybersecurity journey, visit Cyber Command.

Cybersecurity for Nonprofits - cybersecurity for nonprofits

Cybersecurity for nonprofits is not just about protecting data; it’s about preserving the trust and integrity that your organization has built over the years.