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The Ultimate Guide to Cybersecurity and Privacy for Nonprofits


Nonprofit guidelines for cybersecurity and privacy are essential for protecting sensitive donor information and maintaining trust. Here’s a quick overview:

Cybersecurity is critical for nonprofits to safeguard sensitive information, including donor details and financial records.

Nonprofits are particularly vulnerable due to several factors:

  1. Limited Resources and Expertise: Budget constraints often mean there’s no dedicated IT department or cybersecurity professional.
  2. Dependence on Volunteers and Third Parties: Frequent use of third-party service providers can open additional entry points for attacks.
  3. Lack of Formal Policies: Many nonprofits do not have formal cybersecurity policies or procedures, making them easy targets for cybercriminals.

In 2023, 27% of nonprofits worldwide experienced cyberattacks, illustrating the pressing need for improved cybersecurity measures in the sector. Creating a culture of security and implementing robust policies can significantly reduce these vulnerabilities.

Understanding Cybersecurity and Privacy for Nonprofits

Nonprofits handle sensitive information that needs protection. Let’s break down some key aspects, including GDPR, Personally Identifiable Information (PII), and confidentiality.

GDPR: What You Need to Know

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a European Union law that came into effect in May 2018. It aims to protect the personal data of EU citizens. If your nonprofit collects data from EU citizens, you must comply with GDPR.

Why should you care?

Steps to Compliance:

  1. Data Inventory: Identify and document all personal data you collect.
  2. Protection Measures: Implement data protection measures like encryption.
  3. Privacy Policies: Develop clear privacy policies.
  4. Staff Training: Train your staff on GDPR requirements.

Example: A US nonprofit with donors in the EU must ensure their data collection forms meet GDPR standards to avoid penalties and maintain trust.

Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

PII refers to any data that can identify a person. Common examples include:

Fact: 47 states require nonprofits to inform individuals if their PII is disclosed in a security breach.

Why is PII important?

Protecting PII:

  1. Data Minimization: Only collect data you absolutely need.
  2. Secure Storage: Use encryption and secure servers.
  3. Proper Disposal: Follow state laws for disposing of PII.

Example: A nonprofit storing donor addresses and social security numbers must ensure this data is encrypted and only accessible to authorized personnel.


Confidentiality means keeping sensitive information private and secure. For nonprofits, this includes donor information, employee records, and client data.

Why is confidentiality crucial?

Maintaining Confidentiality:

  1. Access Controls: Limit data access to authorized personnel.
  2. Training: Educate staff on confidentiality protocols.
  3. Incident Response: Have a plan for responding to data breaches.

Example: A nonprofit handling medical information must ensure that only authorized staff have access and that data is securely stored and disposed of according to legal requirements.

Key Takeaways

Understanding and implementing these key aspects of cybersecurity and privacy can help protect your nonprofit and the people you serve. Next, we’ll dive into Common Cybersecurity Threats to Nonprofits and how to mitigate them.

Common Cybersecurity Threats to Nonprofits

Nonprofits face several significant cybersecurity threats. Understanding these threats is crucial for protecting your organization and its valuable data.


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

Case Study: In January 2022, Broward Health, a nonprofit healthcare organization, faced a ransomware attack that affected 1.35 million private data records, including social security numbers.

Warning Signs:
– Sudden inability to access files
– Ransom note displayed on your screen
– Unusual file extensions

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.

Common Tactics:
Phishing emails: Deceptive emails that trick recipients into revealing personal information.
Pretexting: Creating a fabricated scenario to gain access to sensitive data.
Baiting: Offering something enticing to get information.

Statistic: In 2021, 50% of NGOs reported being targeted by a cyberattack, many involving 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: An employee accidentally sends sensitive donor information to the wrong email address, exposing confidential data and leading to significant legal and reputational consequences.

Prevention Tips:
– 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.

Symptoms of Malware Infection:
– Unusual computer behavior
– Frequent crashes
– Unauthorized data access or transfer

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

Protecting Against These Threats

To safeguard your nonprofit from these common cybersecurity threats, consider implementing the following measures:

  1. Regular Risk Assessments: Identify and address vulnerabilities.
  2. Data Protection: Encrypt sensitive data and use strong, unique passwords.
  3. Staff Training: Educate staff on recognizing phishing emails and other social engineering tactics.
  4. Incident Response Plans: Have a plan for responding to ransomware attacks and data breaches.

Next, we’ll explore Best Practices for Nonprofit Cybersecurity to help you build a robust defense against these threats.

Best Practices for Nonprofit Cybersecurity

To build a robust defense against cyber threats, nonprofits need to follow several best practices. These practices help protect sensitive data, ensure operations run smoothly, and maintain the trust of donors and stakeholders.

Risk Assessment

Start with a comprehensive risk assessment. This helps you identify vulnerabilities and prioritize your security efforts. Use tools like the Nonprofit Technology Network’s template assessment tool to inventory your data.

Steps for a thorough risk assessment:

  1. Identify Assets: List all the data your nonprofit collects and where it’s stored.
  2. Evaluate Threats: Determine potential threats to your data, such as ransomware or phishing attacks.
  3. Assess Vulnerabilities: Look for weaknesses in your IT infrastructure.
  4. Prioritize Risks: Rank risks based on their potential impact and likelihood.

Data Inventory

Creating a data inventory is crucial. Knowing what data you have and where it’s stored helps in managing risks and ensures compliance with data protection laws.

Key points for data inventory:

  1. Catalog Data: Inventory all data, categorizing what is sensitive and what is not.
  2. Identify PII: Determine if the data includes Personally Identifiable Information (PII) like medical records or donor information.
  3. Assign Responsibility: Identify who is responsible for each type of data.

Protecting Data

Protecting data involves several layers of security measures. Here are some essential steps:

  1. Encrypt Data: Use strong encryption for sensitive data both in transit and at rest. This ensures that even if data is intercepted, it remains unreadable.
  2. Implement MFA: Multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of security by requiring multiple forms of verification.
  3. Regular Backups: Regularly back up your data and store it in a secure, off-site location. This ensures you can recover your data without paying a ransom in case of an attack.
  4. Email Security: Implement email security protocols such as spam filters and anti-phishing software.

Training Staff

Human error is a significant factor in cyber breaches. Regular security awareness training for your staff is crucial.

Training Tips:

  1. Onboarding Process: Include cybersecurity knowledge in the onboarding process for new team members.
  2. Regular Sessions: Conduct engaging training sessions that include real-life scenarios and phishing simulations.
  3. Policy Handbooks: Add cybersecurity measures into the official organization documentation and policy handbooks.
  4. Expert Talks: Have your IT team or an expert discuss cybersecurity measures with your team.

According to a recent roundtable discussion, showing staff examples of phishing scams helps them recognize and avoid such threats.

Implementing these best practices will help your nonprofit build a strong defense against cyber threats. Next, we’ll explore Implementing Cybersecurity Frameworks to provide a structured approach to managing cyber risks.

Implementing Cybersecurity Frameworks

NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The NIST Cybersecurity Framework is a great starting point for nonprofits looking to improve their cybersecurity posture. This framework is designed to help organizations understand, manage, and reduce their cybersecurity risks. It’s flexible and can be scaled to fit the needs of any organization, regardless of size.

The framework consists of five core functions:

  1. Identify
  2. Protect
  3. Detect
  4. Respond
  5. Recover

Identifying Risks

The first step is identifying risks. This involves conducting a thorough risk assessment to understand what sensitive data you have, where it is stored, and who has access to it.

For example, many nonprofits rely on third-party vendors for services like bookkeeping or IT support. If these vendors don’t have strong data security protocols, your organization’s data could be at risk.

Ask questions like:
– What data do we collect?
– Who has access to our data?
– What are the potential threats to our data?

Protecting Against Threats

Once you’ve identified the risks, the next step is protecting against threats. This includes implementing strong data security protocols such as encryption, secure password policies, and multi-factor authentication.

Here are some practical steps:
– Use encryption to protect sensitive data.
– Implement strong password policies (e.g., no “admin” as a username).
– Use multi-factor authentication for an added layer of security.

Detecting Incidents

Detection is crucial. Detecting incidents early can prevent minor issues from becoming major problems. Regularly monitor your systems for unusual activity and ensure that your staff knows how to recognize potential threats.

Tools and practices for detection include:
– Regularly updating software to patch vulnerabilities.
– Using intrusion detection systems to monitor network traffic.
– Training staff to recognize phishing scams and other suspicious activities.

Responding to Attacks

When an attack happens, a quick and effective response is essential. Responding to attacks involves having an incident response plan in place. This plan should outline the steps to take when a breach occurs, including who to contact and how to contain the damage.

Key elements of an incident response plan:
– Clear roles and responsibilities for team members.
– Communication plan for notifying stakeholders.
– Steps for containing and mitigating the breach.

Recovering from Incidents

Finally, recovering from incidents is about restoring normal operations and learning from the experience to prevent future attacks. Regular backups and a clear recovery plan can make this process smoother.

Steps for recovery include:
– Restoring data from backups.
– Conducting a post-incident review to understand what went wrong.
– Updating protocols to prevent future attacks.

By following these steps, your nonprofit can build a robust cybersecurity framework that not only protects against threats but also ensures quick recovery from any incidents. Next, we’ll discuss the importance of Creating a Culture of Cybersecurity within your organization.

Creating a Culture of Cybersecurity

Creating a culture of cybersecurity is critical for nonprofits. It’s not just about having the right tools; it’s about everyone understanding their role in keeping data safe. Let’s break down the key elements:

Leadership Role

Leadership must champion cybersecurity efforts. When board members and executives prioritize security, it sets a tone for the entire organization. Afua Bruce from NTEN emphasizes that leadership involvement is crucial: “When board members and executives prioritize security, it sets a tone for the entire organization.”

Steps for Leadership Involvement:
Set clear cybersecurity goals: Define what you want to achieve.
Allocate resources: Ensure there is enough budget and staffing.
Regularly review policies: Keep security measures up-to-date.

Staff Education

Educating your staff is vital. A staggering 60% of nonprofits lack cybersecurity training programs. Don’t be part of this vulnerable majority!

Effective Training Strategies:
Onboarding: Include cybersecurity training for new hires.
Regular workshops: Host sessions on recognizing phishing attempts and using strong passwords.
Online courses: Use platforms that offer courses on nonprofit cybersecurity.

Regular Exercises

Practice makes perfect. Regularly exercising your incident response plans through simulated scenarios can save up to 40% on data breaches by enabling faster response and recovery.

Types of Exercises:
Simulated phishing campaigns: Test employee awareness.
Tabletop exercises: Walk through potential scenarios.
Full-scale drills: Practice your incident response plan in real-time.

Incident Response Plans

Having a clear incident response plan is essential. Knowing how to react quickly can significantly reduce the impact of a breach.

Key Components of an Incident Response Plan:
Initial steps: What to do first when an incident is detected.
Communication: Who to notify internally and externally.
Containment: How to stop the breach from spreading.
Recovery: Steps to restore data and resume operations.

Providing each employee with a “Cybersecurity Incident Card” that outlines these steps can be very helpful.

By embedding these practices into your daily operations, you can create a culture of cybersecurity that protects your nonprofit from potential threats. Next, we’ll explore the Cybersecurity Tools and Resources for Nonprofits to help you implement these strategies effectively.

Cybersecurity Tools and Resources for Nonprofits

When it comes to nonprofit guidelines for cybersecurity and privacy, having the right tools and resources is crucial. Here are some key organizations and platforms that offer invaluable support and information to help your nonprofit stay secure.


NTEN is a community dedicated to helping nonprofits use technology to make the world a better place. They offer a wealth of resources, including:

By engaging with NTEN, your nonprofit can stay updated on the latest cybersecurity practices and connect with other organizations facing similar challenges.

US Department of Homeland Security

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offers several resources to help nonprofits bolster their cybersecurity defenses:

These resources can help your nonprofit identify vulnerabilities and implement effective security measures.

Digital Impact.IO

Digital Impact.IO is a platform designed to help nonprofits and other social sector organizations improve their data practices. Their resources include:

Using Digital Impact.IO’s resources, your nonprofit can better understand its cybersecurity risks and take steps to mitigate them.


TechImpact is another excellent resource for nonprofits seeking to enhance their cybersecurity posture. They provide:

By leveraging TechImpact’s resources, your nonprofit can make informed decisions about cybersecurity insurance and improve its overall security measures.

These tools and resources are essential for any nonprofit looking to safeguard its data and maintain donor trust. By integrating the offerings from NTEN, DHS, Digital Impact.IO, and TechImpact, your organization can build a robust cybersecurity framework that protects against evolving threats.


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.

Cyber Command’s Role in Supporting Nonprofits

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

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