How Nonprofits Can Protect Users' Safety Online

How Nonprofits Can Protect Users' Safety Online

Running a charity site today presents some notable challenges. It’s difficult to stand out, for instance: the internet is saturated with websites of all shapes and sizes, each of which is promoted in myriad ways, and most of those are profit-driven — meaning they can invest some of the money they make into further marketing. Charities have to work with limited resources.

There’s also the management of all the necessary communications. Capably fielding social media queries, emails, calls, and even support tickets in some cases: it all contributes to vital brand perception. Even if you do fantastic work, you need people to know about it and view you positively if you’re going to convince them to donate.

But there’s another issue that often goes overlooked — and that’s user safety. Whenever there are personal details involved (particularly concerning finances), there are risks, and failing to keep user information safe will prove disastrous for a nonprofit. If you can’t be trusted to protect your patrons, how can you be trusted to further your cause?

In this post, we’re going to look at how nonprofits can assure user safety online, safeguarding their reputations in the process. Let’s get started.

Implement secure website foundations

If you’re going to be taking donations through a website, the first thing you need to do is ensure that the foundation of that website is extremely secure. If there are any vulnerabilities, it’ll be possible for malicious actors to gain access and take advantage of people’s goodwill (as unscrupulous as it is to exploit a charity, there are those who’d do it given the chance).

And the key to the foundation of your website is where and how it’s hosted. Shared hosting, for example, works on the basis that many websites share the same server, and is typically associated with weaker security. Cloud or VPS hosting, on the other hand (Cloudways does a good job of explaining the subtle differences between the two), are seen as eminently faster and more secure, as your website benefits from a network of interconnected servers.

Of course, web hosting isn’t always cheap, and the more dynamic hosting solutions may prove financially prohibitive for a nonprofit. That said, you’ll find that many providers do offer a discount for nonprofits — so while shared hosting might seem like the most cost-effective solution, you shouldn’t discount VPS or cloud hosting completely, as there may be a custom plan that makes it financially viable.

Once your web hosting is taken care of, you can then build upon that foundation with carefully-selected software to handle your donations, keeping account details secure and making it faster to get things done. In addition to being huge for efficiency, the right system can track transactions seamlessly, allowing you to focus on your core responsibilities with the assurance that everything is being suitably recorded.

Provide general tips and recommendations

The spirit of altruism that fuels nonprofit organizations shouldn’t stop with their core pursuits. Given the importance of online safety, this is an issue that calls for general advocacy. In other words, every charity should be committed to making every charitable donation safe. Consider that a bad experience with one charity will make someone less likely to donate to another. Due to this, it isn’t enough to focus entirely on making your operation safe.

By making a commitment to provide cyber security tips wherever useful, you can support visitors to your website and boost your ranking potential in the process. You need to be clear about the purpose, though. Take something like a VPN (virtual private network). Using a VPN is greatly useful to anyone who wants to protect their identity online, but there are different types of VPN that have different purposes — and you don’t want to stray from relevancy.

You might spot search volume seeking the best VPN for torrenting, for example, but leave that area to sites that suit the topic of peer-to-peer file sharing (something most commonly used for digital piracy). Instead, try writing about the best VPNs for security, or for financial transactions specifically. One good option is to partner with a suitable provider using an affiliate scheme: if someone chooses to use your recommended VPN, you raise a small amount of money.

Overall, think about what issues are likely to concern your audience specifically. Another common concern is confirming the legitimacy of a charity before donating, so steer people towards the relevant organizations through which your nonprofit is registered. Keep in mind that you don’t need top-level expertise in security areas to guide people usefully. Plenty of web users (particularly the older ones) aren’t very tech-savvy, so even basic tips will help them.

Limit admin access to those who truly need it

Getting things done on a shoestring budget often pushes charitable organizations to trust in freelancers and volunteers. This tends to work out, but it can cause issues when excessive permissions are granted. There are two ways in which allowing too many people admin access can lead to trouble:

  • The access can be directly exploited for gain. Someone with a live login can steal donations, or even just steal information they can use or sell on.
  • The access can be unintentionally misused. A volunteer with good intentions but minimal experience can try to improve the website but end up making things worse.

And in the event that the website is damaged by someone who shouldn’t have been able to access it at that level, getting it back to normal might be a major financial burden. Accordingly, the best way to keep users safe is to make certain that only people with the skills and commitment to handle the responsibility are allowed admin access.

This practice is similar in principle to the “least privilege” approach, which denotes that individuals should only be granted access where it’s absolutely necessary for them to perform a role. Allow blanket, unrestricted access to employees, freelancers, volunteers, even external clients, and you may find that access unintentionally (or deliberately) being misused, and putting your users’ safety at risk.