Strengthening Nonprofit Cybersecurity: Essential Strategies to Safeguard Your Mission


Nonprofits, beholden to trust and goodwill, find themselves uniquely and unexpectedly exposed to cyber threats. But what practical steps can leaders take to mitigate such risks? This no-frills guide to nonprofit cybersecurity confronts the reality of cyber dangers for nonprofits and provides straightforward protective strategies every organization should know. 

Why Nonprofits Are Vulnerable to Cyberattacks  

Nonprofit organizations frequently grapple with heightened vulnerability to cyber threats, which can often be attributed to limited budgets and organizational capacity that constrain their capability of instituting strong cybersecurity defenses. These vulnerabilities leave them open to substantial risks, including: 

  • The theft of personally identifiable information (PII)  
  • Misappropriation of organizational funds 
  • Interruptions in day-to-day operations 
  • Damage to public trust and reputation 

It is common for nonprofits to have a wealth of confidential donor, constituent, and client data, including sensitive information comprising of personally identifiable details. This makes them an attractive target for malicious actors intent on misusing this information. In many instances, a lack of awareness about cyber risk and sufficient resources compounds the cybersecurity challenges faced by nonprofits, intensifying the potential exposure points through which they may be targeted. 

Identifying Common Cyber Threats for Nonprofits  nonprofit cybersecurity threats

Nonprofits must strengthen their protection against prevalent cyber threats to secure their data. These threats come in various forms, including: 

  • Ransomware 
  • Phishing attacks 
  • Social engineering tactics

Each type of attack carries its own unique approach and specific targets. 


Nonprofits face significant disruption from ransomware attacks, wherein their crucial data is encrypted by attackers who then demand a ransom for the decryption keys. The sensitivity of the information and the pivotal functions they perform make nonprofits frequent targets of such cyber assaults.  

It is vital for nonprofit leaders to understand the severity of ransomware threats in order to develop strong defensive and responsive measures. This awareness underscores the grave repercussions that could ensue should they fail to successfully counter these malicious attacks. 

Phishing Attacks 

Nonprofits are frequently targeted by phishing scams, which use deceptive emails that appear trustworthy but contain harmful links or attachments aimed at extracting sensitive data such as login credentials. It is essential for organizations to invest in ongoing cybersecurity training to ensure their employees and volunteers can identify and thwart these phishing attempts before they lead to the compromise of critical information.  

As highlighted by the 2021 Nobelium incident involving USAID’s Constant Contact account, government bodies and NGOs have experienced substantial repercussions from sophisticated phishing campaigns. This emphasizes the necessity for continuous alertness towards potential schemes that may jeopardize an organization’s security. 

Social Engineering 

Social engineering attacks exploit human vulnerabilities through various psychological tactics, tricking individuals into compromising security and divulging sensitive information. These tactics can take the form of: 

  • Phishing 
  • Pretexting 
  • Tailgating 
  • SMS phishing 

Implementing Robust Nonprofit Cybersecurity Measures  nonprofit cybersecurity audit

Nonprofits need to adopt strong security measures in order to counteract the risk of cyber threats. This should include undergoing a cyber risk assessment and developing a cyber strategy to protect the organization against inherent risk.  

Comprehensive and ongoing cybersecurity training is essential for defending against various cyber risks, including social engineering and ransomware. Employees at all levels should know the role they play in keeping the organization secure.  

Regular System Updates 

One of the easiest ways to prevent attackers from gaining access to your systems is to consistently update your organization’s software. Patching is essential for keeping operating systems, web browsers and applications secure. Updates should be installed as soon as they are available.   

Careful monitoring of user credentials such as usernames and passwords, coupled with ongoing upkeep of websites, serves as another protective measure against potential security breaches and incidents involving data breaches. 

Employee Training and Awareness 

Even with the evident risk of cyber threats, an alarming 90% of nonprofits fail to offer routine cybersecurity training for their employees. This absence of regular instruction leaves organizations more vulnerable to cyberattacks.  

Incorporating actual instances of phishing and social engineering in educational sessions can markedly bolster staff awareness about such dangers. It is important for leaders to cultivate a culture of cyber awareness so everyone is educated and understands the significance of their role in avoiding a breach.  

Data Encryption and Secure Storage 

Implementing encryption for sensitive data alongside utilizing secure cloud storage solutions is critical for nonprofits. These measures create an additional protective barrier around confidential information and intellectual property, enhancing defense against cybersecurity breaches. 

Adopting encryption methods to protect email communications, in conjunction with consistent data backups and reliable hosting of secure cloud systems, can strengthen the cybersecurity framework within a nonprofit organization. 

Establishing an Incident Response Plan 

A crucial element of a strong cybersecurity strategy is a robust incident response plan. The purpose of an incident response plan is to assist organizations in identifying, reacting to, and curtailing information security incidents, thereby reducing operational, financial, and reputational harm. 

 For an incident response strategy to be resilient, it must encompass: 

  • Precise characterization of what constitutes an incident 
  • Actionable strategies for containment 
  • Explicitly assigned responsibilities 
  • Response blueprints tailored to typical situations 
  • Protocols addressing multiple possible threats 

Consistent practice drills and enhancements of this blueprint are vital for maintaining preparedness and ensuring that the plan remains effective against evolving cyber threats. 

Monitoring and Auditing Nonprofit Cybersecurity Practices 

Nonprofits must persistently monitor their security protocols and conduct frequent cybersecurity audits to uphold the integrity of their measures. Through these practices, they can uncover fresh vulnerabilities, comply with legal frameworks regarding privacy and security, and remain vigilant against emerging cyber threats.  

By starting with an evaluation of the present IT infrastructure through cybersecurity risk assessments, nonprofits lay out a strategy for continuous enhancement in protecting against cyber threats. Performing vulnerability assessments is essential to identifying how susceptible a nonprofit might be to potential cyberattacks. 

Securing Your Nonprofit nonprofit cybersecurity lock

By adopting strong security protocols, devising a plan for incident response and creating a culture of cyber awareness, organizations can reinforce their defenses against such vulnerabilities and carry on with their essential operations securely.   

While many organizations don’t need a full time Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), they do need an advisor to help them evaluate their risk and subsequently develop and execute a strategy to defend against cyber threats. For expert guidance on enhancing your nonprofit’s cyber resilience and strengthening your cybersecurity posture, reach out to the cybersecurity leaders at Hartman Executive Advisors. Our tailored solutions and strategic insights can help you navigate the complex landscape of cybersecurity and safeguard your organization’s future. 


Get in Touch


Related Blogs:

Data-Driven Manufacturing is the Future

Data-Driven Manufacturing is the Future

Nearly half of CEOs believe that their company won’t be viable in ten years if it continues running on its…
Banking on Intelligence: What Community Banks Need to Know about AI [Podcast]

Banking on Intelligence: What Community Banks Need to Know about AI [Podcast]

EPISODE SUMMARY In this compelling podcast, we uncover the key insights, strategic advantages, and real-world applications that make embracing AI…
Embracing Innovation, Mitigating Risk: Integrating FinTechs into Your Bank's Risk Management Operations

Embracing Innovation, Mitigating Risk: Integrating FinTechs into Your Bank's Risk Management Operations

One of today’s most discussed topics is FinTech. At its core, fintech refers to banking technology that can help deliver…
Scroll to Top

Let's Talk!