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Understanding Cybersecurity Risks for Nonprofits: The Ultimate Guide


Cybersecurity risk for nonprofits is a serious issue that every organization in this sector must address. In simple terms, nonprofits are at a higher risk for cyberattacks because they often have weaker security measures but still hold valuable data like donor information, volunteer records, and financial details.

Here are the primary cybersecurity risks for nonprofits:

  1. Online Donations: Risk of theft through unsecured websites.
  2. Phishing Scams: Cybercriminals tricking staff into giving away sensitive info.
  3. Volunteers: Some might misuse their access to sensitive data.

Nonprofits do amazing work, helping at-risk communities worldwide. But this noble mission makes them attractive targets for cybercriminals. The perception of large funds and daily operations involving sensitive data only increases this risk.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for better cybersecurity. As people and businesses turned to online platforms, cyber-attacks surged. Understanding and addressing these vulnerabilities are crucial for nonprofits to protect their operations and maintain trust with donors and volunteers.

Common Cybersecurity Risks for Nonprofits

Nonprofits are increasingly targeted by cybercriminals, and understanding the specific risks is crucial to protecting your organization. Here are some of the most common cybersecurity risks for nonprofits:


Malware, short for malicious software, is designed to damage or infiltrate computer systems. This can include viruses, worms, trojans, and spyware. Nonprofits are particularly vulnerable due to often outdated systems and lack of robust cybersecurity measures.

Example: A nonprofit organization in California experienced a malware attack that compromised their donor database, leading to unauthorized access to sensitive information.


Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts your data and demands payment for the decryption key. This is particularly devastating for nonprofits, as it can paralyze operations and lead to significant financial loss.

Case Study: Broward Health, a nonprofit healthcare organization, was hit by a ransomware attack in January 2022, affecting 1.35 million private data records, including social security numbers.


Phishing involves cybercriminals sending deceptive emails to trick recipients into revealing personal information or clicking on malicious links. This risk is heightened for nonprofits due to frequent email communication with donors and volunteers.

Fact: 9 out of 10 nonprofit organizations do not train staff regularly on cybersecurity, making them prime targets for phishing attacks.

Social Engineering

Social engineering attacks exploit human psychology rather than technical vulnerabilities. Cybercriminals manipulate individuals into divulging confidential information or performing actions that compromise security.

Statistic: In 2021, 50% of NGOs reported being targeted by a cyberattack, many of which involved social engineering tactics.

Data Breaches

Data breaches occur when unauthorized individuals gain access to sensitive information. This can result from employee negligence, malicious intent, or successful cyberattacks. The consequences can be severe, including identity theft and loss of donor trust.

Example: The International Committee of the Red Cross experienced a data breach in September 2022, compromising 500,000 personal data and confidential information records.

CATO (Credential Abuse and Theft Operations)

CATO involves cybercriminals stealing login credentials to access systems and data. Nonprofits often have multiple users accessing systems, increasing the risk of credential theft.

Tip: Implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) to reduce the risk of CATO attacks.

DDoS Attacks

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks overwhelm a server with traffic, causing it to crash and rendering services unavailable. For nonprofits, this can disrupt operations and fundraising activities.

Fact: The average length of interruption after ransomware attacks on organizations in the United States in 2021 was 22 days, highlighting the potential for extended downtime from cyberattacks.

Understanding these risks is the first step in protecting your nonprofit. The next section will delve into why nonprofits are prime targets for cyberattacks and how you can mitigate these risks.

Why Nonprofits are Prime Targets for Cyberattacks

Nonprofits are often seen as easy targets for cybercriminals. Let’s dive into the main reasons why.

Sensitive Donor Information

Nonprofits collect and store a lot of sensitive information about their donors, such as names, addresses, and even social security numbers. This data is highly valuable to cybercriminals for identity theft and other malicious activities.

Example: In January 2022, a data breach at Broward Health, a nonprofit, compromised 1.35 million records, including social security numbers. This incident highlights the severe risks that nonprofits face.

Limited Cybersecurity Measures

Due to budget constraints, many nonprofits lack robust cybersecurity measures. They often don’t have dedicated IT departments or professionals to manage cybersecurity.

Statistic: According to the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network (NTEN), 68% of nonprofits do not have documented policies and procedures in place for dealing with cyberattacks.

Dependence on Volunteers

Nonprofits often rely on volunteers who may not have the necessary training or awareness about cybersecurity risks. This can lead to unintentional security breaches.

Fact: 71% of nonprofits allow staff members to use unsecured personal devices to access organizational emails and business files, increasing the risk of data breaches.

Third-Party Vendors

Nonprofits frequently use third-party vendors for various services like fundraising platforms and cloud storage. These external partnerships can create additional entry points for cyberattacks if proper security measures are not in place.

Case Study: The International Committee of the Red Cross experienced a cyberattack in September 2022, compromising 500,000 personal data records. This shows how vulnerabilities in third-party services can affect nonprofits.

Outdated Security Protocols

Many nonprofits use outdated security protocols, making them easy targets for cybercriminals. These outdated systems are often not equipped to handle modern cyber threats.

Statistic: 27% of nonprofits worldwide have fallen victim to cyberattacks, according to the 2023 Nonprofit Tech for Good Report, often due to outdated security measures.

Understanding why nonprofits are prime targets for cyberattacks is crucial for protecting your organization. The next section will discuss the biggest cybersecurity vulnerabilities in nonprofits and how to address them.

The Biggest Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities in Nonprofits

Employee Actions

One of the biggest vulnerabilities in nonprofits is the actions of employees. Many data breaches happen due to employee negligence or malicious intent. For instance, mishandling data, sharing credentials, or falling for phishing scams can lead to unauthorized access to sensitive information.

Example: A staff member accidentally clicks on a phishing email, compromising donor information and leading to a data breach.

Unsecured Personal Devices

A staggering 71% of nonprofits allow staff to use unsecured personal devices to access organizational emails and files. This practice can be a significant security risk. Personal devices often lack the security measures found on organizational devices, making them easy targets for cybercriminals.

Fact: Allowing unsecured devices can lead to malware infections, data breaches, and unauthorized access to sensitive information.

Lack of Documented Policies

68% of nonprofits do not have documented policies and procedures in place should a cyberattack occur. Without formal guidelines, staff may not know how to respond to a security incident, leading to delayed responses and increased damage.

Statistic: Less than 50% of nonprofits have internal procedures or policies to manage how data is shared with external agencies, increasing the risk of data breaches.

Insufficient Training

Many nonprofits underestimate the importance of cybersecurity training. Without proper training, staff may not recognize potential threats or know how to avoid them.

Quote: “Cybersecurity for nonprofits often fails at the staff level due to a lack of proper training and resources,” highlighting the need for ongoing education.

Outdated Information Systems

Using outdated information systems can expose nonprofits to cyber threats. These systems often lack the latest security features and updates, making them vulnerable to attacks.

Statistic: According to the NTEN report, 27% of nonprofits have fallen victim to cyberattacks due to outdated security protocols.

Understanding these vulnerabilities is the first step in protecting your nonprofit from cyber threats. The next section will outline steps you can take to mitigate these risks.

Steps to Mitigate Cybersecurity Risks in Nonprofits

Conduct a Risk Assessment

The first step in mitigating cybersecurity risks for nonprofits is conducting a thorough risk assessment. This process helps identify what data you collect, where it’s stored, and how it’s protected.

NTEN Template: The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) provides a helpful risk assessment template that guides you through this process. This template asks critical questions like:

Inventory of Data: Knowing what data you have is crucial. Create a clear inventory of all your data, categorizing what is sensitive and what is not. This helps in managing risks and ensures compliance with data protection laws.

Identifying Protected Data: Determine if the data you collect is considered “personally identifiable information” (PII). This includes details like medical information, employee records, and donor information. Understanding what data needs special protection is key to maintaining security.

Implement Strong Policies and Training

GDPR Compliance: If your nonprofit operates in the EU or deals with EU citizens, compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is mandatory. GDPR imposes strict rules on data handling and grants individuals greater control over their personal data. Noncompliance can lead to hefty fines.

Data Protection Training: Train your staff on cybersecurity awareness, policies, and procedures. Regular training sessions should cover topics like identifying phishing scams, using strong passwords, and the importance of data protection.

Incident Response Plans: Develop and document your incident response plans. These plans should outline how to respond to specific incidents, who is involved, and what steps to take. Having a clear plan helps you respond quickly and effectively to any cyber threats.

Utilize Cybersecurity Frameworks and Tools

NIST Framework: The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is a flexible and cost-effective approach to enhancing cybersecurity. Its core functions—Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover—help manage and mitigate cyber risks systematically.

Digital Impact.IO Questions: Use tools like Digital Impact.IO to ask critical questions about your cybersecurity practices. These questions help you identify gaps and areas for improvement.

Regular Maintenance: Regularly update your systems and software to protect against new vulnerabilities. Outdated systems are a common entry point for cyberattacks.

Cyber Liability Insurance

Nonprofit Risk Management Center: Before deciding whether to purchase cyber-liability insurance, take these three key steps:

  1. Understand the Impact: Understand how a breach of privacy claim could affect your nonprofit.
  2. Collaborate with Experts: Work with a knowledgeable insurance agent or broker who understands your nonprofit’s operations and can help you choose the right insurance products.
  3. Evaluate Cost: Take a hard look at the cost of the annual premium.

Insurance Coverage Options: Explore different coverage options to find the best fit for your nonprofit. Look for policies that cover a wide range of cyber threats, from data breaches to ransomware attacks.

Cybersecurity Insurance Checklist: Use a cybersecurity insurance checklist to ensure you have considered all aspects of coverage. This checklist can help you make an informed decision about what insurance to purchase.

By following these steps, nonprofits can significantly reduce their cybersecurity risks and protect their valuable data. Next, we’ll address some frequently asked questions about cybersecurity for nonprofits.

Frequently Asked Questions about Cybersecurity for Nonprofits

How can nonprofits protect against ransomware attacks?

Ransomware attacks are on the rise, with significant impacts on nonprofits. In 2021, 50% of NGOs reported being targeted by a cyberattack. Here are some steps nonprofits can take to protect themselves:

  1. Regular Backups: Ensure that all critical data is backed up regularly. Keep these backups offline to prevent ransomware from accessing them.
  2. Email Security: Use secure email servers and train staff to recognize phishing emails. Phishing is a common way ransomware is delivered.
  3. Software Updates: Keep all software up to date. Cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities in outdated software.
  4. Anti-Malware Tools: Implement robust anti-malware tools to detect and block ransomware before it can cause harm.
  5. Incident Response Plan: Have a clear incident response plan in place. Know what to do if a ransomware attack occurs, including who to contact and how to isolate affected systems.

What are the best practices for managing volunteers to minimize cybersecurity risks?

Volunteers are essential to nonprofits, but they can also pose cybersecurity risks. Here are some best practices to manage these risks:

  1. Background Checks: Start with a criminal background check to ensure volunteers are trustworthy.
  2. Training: Provide cybersecurity training to all volunteers. Make sure they understand the importance of protecting sensitive information.
  3. Access Controls: Limit access to data based on the volunteer’s role. Only give access to the information they need to perform their duties.
  4. Supervision: Monitor volunteer activities, especially those who handle sensitive data. Regularly review access logs for any unusual activity.
  5. Clear Policies: Implement and enforce clear cybersecurity policies. Volunteers should know what is expected of them and what actions are prohibited.

How does cybersecurity compliance impact nonprofit organizations?

Cybersecurity compliance is crucial for nonprofits for several reasons:

  1. Legal Requirements: Nonprofits must comply with laws and regulations such as GDPR for data protection. Non-compliance can result in hefty fines.
  2. Donor Trust: Compliance with cybersecurity standards helps build trust with donors. They need to know their information is safe.
  3. Operational Integrity: Ensuring compliance helps maintain the integrity and availability of your systems, which is vital for day-to-day operations.
  4. Risk Management: Compliance frameworks provide guidelines for managing and reducing cybersecurity risks. This can help prevent costly data breaches and other cyber incidents.

By understanding and implementing these strategies, nonprofits can significantly reduce their cybersecurity risks and protect their valuable data.


Creating a culture of security within your nonprofit is essential. It’s not just about having the right tools and policies in place; it’s about fostering an environment where everyone understands the importance of cybersecurity and their role in maintaining it.

Why is a culture of security so important? Because cyber threats are constantly evolving, and your organization’s security is only as strong as its weakest link. For many nonprofits, that weak link can be an untrained staff member or an outdated security protocol.

Steps to Create a Culture of Security

  1. Regular Training: Ensure all employees and volunteers receive regular cybersecurity training. This includes recognizing phishing attempts, using strong passwords, and understanding the importance of data protection.

  2. Documented Policies: Develop and maintain documented cybersecurity policies. According to the Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network (NTEN), 68% of nonprofits lack these policies, making them vulnerable.

  3. Leadership Involvement: Leadership should champion cybersecurity initiatives. When board members and executives prioritize security, it sets a tone for the entire organization.

  4. Regular Audits: Conduct regular security audits and assessments to identify and address vulnerabilities. This proactive approach helps mitigate risks before they become significant issues.

  5. Incident Response Plans: Have a clear, documented incident response plan. Knowing how to respond to a breach can significantly reduce its impact.

Cyber Command’s Role in Supporting Nonprofits

At Cyber Command, we understand the unique challenges nonprofits face when it comes to cybersecurity. Our mission is to help you protect your valuable assets so you can continue making a positive impact without the looming worry of cyber threats.

We offer a comprehensive suite of services tailored to the needs of nonprofits, including:

By partnering with us, you’re not just investing in cybersecurity; you’re investing in the future of your nonprofit. Together, we can ensure your organization remains a safe and trusted entity for your donors, volunteers, and the communities you serve.

Ready to secure your nonprofit’s future? Discover how we can help. Together, we can achieve more than just security; we can ensure your nonprofit continues to make a significant impact, free from the constraints of cyber vulnerabilities.

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