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Is My Data Safe? Managing your Nonprofit on the Cloud

Intro to Cloud ComputingFile SharingCloud Security & PrivacyCloud Computing

By: Rhea Simms, Growth Coordinator at Keela.

You’ve probably noticed the influx of SaaS (Software as a Service) cloud technology for nonprofits - programs like Raiser’s Edge, DonorPerfect, Salesforce, and even Keela.

These programs often use a cloud-based system to centrally store your data, allowing teams to access information wherever they are, as long as they have access to the internet. Put simply, cloud computing is a network of servers working to deliver a specific function, like storing your contact data or managing your projects. 

There are many benefits to relying on a cloud-based system; teams can be more interconnected than ever before, and these tools come at a lower price than almost all local storage options. However, with cloud-based systems also comes apprehension and a fear of data safety. At some point, we’ve all wondered: Is my work really safe up there in the ‘cloud’?

Is my data safe?

Cloud-based software providers are taking all necessary protocols to protect your data. No legitimate company would survive without meeting necessary requirements for data security. SaaS providers keep your data safe through encryption. I know, I know…another new buzzword! So, what is encryption?

Encryption is the use of complex algorithms to protect your information. Hackers are sometimes able to decrypt information, but this would be an extremely difficult feat and it shouldn’t be at the top of your worry list. In fact, you’re likely already benefiting from encryption through your online banking service. In reality, the probability of data loss on an externally-hosted cloud server is negligible.

What problem am I most likely to face?

Chances are you won’t experience any data loss or hacking with a professional cloud service provider. The biggest threat to the cloud may be a disgruntled employee with access to your database. Your organization can safeguard this potential threat by establishing clear data-sharing protocols, and assigning employees different levels of authority on your cloud-server based on their position at the company. For example, refrain from giving interns and part-time volunteers administrative permission privileges. Essentially, limit their access to information online to reflect their position offline; give them access to the data they need to see, and nothing more. SaaS companies are smart this way - they put you in the driver’s seat for data sharing within your organization.

Hot tip regarding passwords: Password security is extremely important, as was demonstrated by the highly publicized Apple iCloud breach. Something as simple as having your employees regularly update passwords can be a huge step towards protecting your data. So long as you choose a reliable software provider or have an experienced IT department, you’re all set.

What if something goes wrong?

Sometimes things go wrong - you temporarily lose your data or a disgruntled employee leaks organizational data etc. - and these situations are often highly publicized. You may recall a case of a Salesforce client hacking from 2007. In this case, the hacker went after a specific client, not the actual SaaS company. It is important to keep in mind the vast landscape of the SaaS market and the infrequency of such cases; you shouldn’t worry about your cloud data being hacked, as it’s extremely unlikely.

One of the downsides to SaaS cloud technology is that if you don’t have internet access, there is a chance you could be without your data (unless you have an offline solution). Not to fret - as soon as your internet access returns, everything should remain just as you left it. The upside is that as long as there is internet access, anyone from your team can access and update data at any time, from anywhere. Unless you live in a place with extremely spotty internet, chances are the benefits outweigh the risks.

If you’re dealing with a potentially rogue employee, there are usually settings within SaaS cloud technology that allow administrators to limit access and delete users from your account. Of course, you need to be timely in limiting this person’s access to your data in order to minimize damage. We hope that strong hiring practices can help to ensure you don’t face such issues!

Now, what if the worst scenario happens; a natural disaster occurs and all SaaS cloud servers are destroyed? Well, you can prepare for this, too! Your organization can undertake the simple and effective tactic of scheduling routine data back-ups. Export your pertinent information as often as you feel comfortable, and save it somewhere you can trust. Save your most important data in more than one place. Our team always suggests keeping offline copies of donor addresses, contact information etc. on external hard drives if possible. In case of a highly unlikely disaster scenario, at least your data will be kept largely intact! 

Breathe Easy

In some form or another, 93% of organizations are already using cloud storage. But some are still trying to figure out how this all works, and how safe their data really is. 

Here are a few tips to make sure you’re making sound decisions as you evaluate cloud computing options for your nonprofit:

  • Do your research to ensure you’re comfortable with the level of security your software provides.
  • Ask the hard questions - like these 10 questions to ask when choosing a cloud provider.
  • Read feedback - if something went wrong for another customer, chances are you can find it on a forum or online review bank. 

No matter what, never sign up for a platform that you’re not comfortable with. You have the right to know exactly what is happening with your data; any good SaaS provider should be transparent about what tools they’re using to keep your data safe and confidential, about the location your data is being stored, and that you own the data being stored on external servers. Educate your team and confidently make decisions as you explore the vast market of cloud-based software options available for your nonprofit.

About the Author

Rhea Simms is the Growth Coordinator with Keela, an impact technology company working to change the business of non-profits. Keela provides simple tools that help small and medium-sized nonprofits integrate workflow, increasing funding and decreasing costs. The all- in-one platform allows organizations to manage projects, contacts, mass marketing needs, donations, and donors.