Cybersecurity Risks for Nonprofits

Cybersecurity Risks for Nonprofits

Our digital world offers many benefits that help organizations of all sizes grow. Yet, with that comes challenges. Cybersecurity remains a top concern for various industries — including nonprofits. 

According to a November 2022 survey, the majority of successful cyberattacks have been a stark reality. Over 45% of organizations reported between one to five successful breaches within the past year, underlying the growing need for robust cybersecurity strategies. 

To develop these strategies, one must first understand which techniques cyber attackers use. Through this, nonprofits can mitigate cyber threats and protect their data and finances. 

Why Are Nonprofits Vulnerable to Cyberattacks?

There are common reasons why nonprofit organizations may be more vulnerable to cyberattacks. They can include the following: 

  • Limited cybersecurity expertise: Nonprofits often operate with constrained resources and may lack dedicated cybersecurity experts. This gap in expertise may leave them more susceptible to sophisticated cyber threats. Nonprofits can find it challenging to implement defense mechanisms or respond to threats.
  • Lack of awareness and prioritization: Cybersecurity might not always receive the attention it deserves. A lack of awareness among staff and leadership may lead to inadequate investment in preventive measures. 
  • Third-party service providers: Collaborating with external vendors or partners introduces additional vulnerabilities. Nonprofits might not rigorously assess the cybersecurity measures of these entities. This can increase the risk of breaches stemming from weaknesses in their third-party networks.

6 Cybersecurity Challenges for Nonprofit Organizations

Understanding common cyber risks for nonprofits can help them identify their vulnerabilities. As such, they can tailor solutions to their needs and address these challenges. Here are the top cybersecurity challenges for nonprofits.

1. Ransomware

The first cyber risk for nonprofits is ransomware. It’s a form of malicious software that infiltrates one’s computer with the goal of encrypting files or locking users out until a ransom is paid. Hence the name. 

Cyber attackers usually exploit vulnerabilities in systems or use phishing emails to deploy the ransomware. Unfortunately, nonprofits typically lack cybersecurity measures and become prime targets for cyberattacks. 

These attackers can then block access to critical data and demand cryptocurrency payment. This transaction is challenging to trace. Also, even if the nonprofit pays the ransom, there’s no guarantee that their files will be decrypted. 

2. Email Phishing Schemes

Fraudulent emails that mimic legitimate entities to deceive recipients are another common cybersecurity risk for nonprofit organizations. Phishing schemes aim to gain sensitive information. Cyber attackers use malicious links or have recipients download harmful attachments. 

These attackers leverage social engineering tactics by crafting convincing messages that appear genuine. Through this, they aim to exploit human vulnerabilities rather than technological weaknesses.

Nonprofits, which often rely on email communication and potentially lack email security measures, can be especially susceptible to these schemes. This jeopardizes the confidentiality of the nonprofit’s donor information, financial data and operational details. 

3. Social Engineering

Social engineering exploits human psychology and preys on the culture of trust and collaboration within nonprofits. Cyber attackers deceive individuals into divulging sensitive information or performing actions compromising security. 

For nonprofits, these attackers can impersonate trusted entities such as donors, volunteers or even internal personnel. Nonprofit staff who are unfamiliar with these techniques may accidentally share login credentials or financial details.

Cyber attackers use impersonation, pretexting or create a sense of urgency to gain access to confidential data or systems. For nonprofits, these attackers can impersonate trusted entities such as donors, volunteers or even internal personnel. Nonprofit staff who are unfamiliar with these techniques may accidentally share login credentials or financial details. 

4. Data Breaches From Employees

Unfortunately, there are scenarios where staff members deliberately compromise security protocols or misuse access privileges. These employees may have different motivations for such actions, be it financial gain, revenge or even coercion by external parties. 

These breaches can be challenging to prevent through technical means. They often need a combination of access controls, continuous monitoring and employee training.

5. Data Breaches From Third-Party Vendors

External entities compromising security measures may lead to leaked or stolen sensitive data. Such breaches might stem from internal negligence, inadequate security protocols or even malicious intent within the vendor’s organization. 

Nonprofits who are reliant on these vendors for various services may be more susceptible as their data can be interconnected.

6. Malicious Software

Malicious software, or malware for short, includes a range of harmful programs. These programs are designed to infiltrate and damage computer systems or networks. Cyber attackers can use phishing emails or compromised websites to gain unauthorized access and disrupt operations. 

Once infiltrated, it can then execute a multitude of damaging actions. Malware can steal sensitive information or even render an organization’s systems inoperable. Cyber attackers may also deploy ransomware, which can further lead to potential financial losses. 

As you’ve noticed, many of these cybersecurity risks interconnect with each other. All result in either data, financial or reputation damage, but there are ways to combat these threats. 

Cybersecurity Best Practices for Nonprofits

There are several best practices that nonprofit organizations can put in place: 

  • Regular employee training: Educate your employees about common cyberattacks and techniques. Training should cover various points, such as spotting suspicious emails, avoiding clicking on unknown links and handling sensitive information securely.
  • Strong password policies: Mandate complex passwords, regular updates and multi-factor authentication (MFA) where possible. This adds an extra layer of security even if passwords are compromised.
  • Updated software and systems: Ensure you keep your organization’s software, applications and operating systems updated. Updated software comes with the latest security patches and updates, addressing known vulnerabilities that attackers might exploit.
  • Data encryption: Nonprofit organizations must encrypt their sensitive data — both in transit and at rest — to prevent unauthorized access. This ensures that even if data is intercepted, it remains unreadable without the proper decryption keys.
  • Regular backups: Always back up critical organizational data. Also, ensure that you store these backups offline or in a separate, secure environment to mitigate the impact of ransomware attacks or data loss.
  • Vendor risk management: Establish clear security requirements in vendor contracts and conduct regular assessments. Ensure that you vet and check third-party vendors’ cybersecurity measures.
  • Access control: You can install access controls to limit employees’ access to data and systems based on their roles. Follow the principle of least privilege — restrict access only to what’s necessary for each individual’s job responsibilities.
  • Incident response plan: Having an incident response plan with the necessary steps can help tremendously. The plan should be regularly updated. Outline clear roles, communication procedures and strategies for containment and recovery.
Prelude Services Can Help Protect Your Nonprofit

Prelude Services Can Help Protect Your Nonprofit

Nonprofits often face daunting cybersecurity challenges. They navigate through a maze of threats without a clear roadmap. The good news is that they don’t have to face this battle alone. Outsourcing your IT and cybersecurity to experienced providers tailored to nonprofits can significantly help. 

Explore professional and customizable IT solutions for your nonprofit with Prelude Services — from cybersecurity to network management. Our expertise in cybersecurity for nonprofits ensures that your organization can focus on its core objectives while having digital defense strategies in place. 

Get in touch with us if you have any other questions and to learn more about how Prelude Services can help your organization.


Technology has become a crucial part of the modern business experience. Without functional computers and mobile phones, many business practices would grind to a halt. Unfortunately, breakdowns and malfunctions are an inevitable part of any machine, meaning businesses do grind to a halt until the issues are fixed. In order to keep your business running, it's crucial to have access to IT support when you experience technical difficulties.

If you're a healthcare company, long-term care provider, or small business in need of IT support at all hours, consider Prelude Services. We're a SSAE SOC
Compliant business dedicated to improving your security and functionality. We offer specific IT services for senior living care, nursing homes, retirement home services and assisted living, including 24/7 IT support. If you want to know how Prelude can help you, contact us today!