Developing a Cybersecurity Program for a Nonprofit Organization

A cybersecurity program helps nonprofit organizations coordinate an adaptable defense to the many types of cyber threats and information security threats.
Developing Cyber Security

What is a Cybersecurity Program?

Cyber risk management is critical to protecting information and systems from cyber threats. Many non-profit organizations are stuck in a fire fighting reactive approach, depending on a small collection of cyber security tools to defend their organization from cyber threats. A cybersecurity program helps non-profit organizations coordinate an adaptable defense to the many types of cyber threats and information security threats. Cybersecurity is key to risk management as well. Cybersecurity tools and processes address tactical threats, and risk management strategically manages longer term risks. A good cyber security program should be comprised of both elements. Every non-profit organization must develop and maintain a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy to protect itself and its clients from cyber threats.


How Do I Build a Security Program for My Nonprofit Organization?

Analyze Your Security Needs
Every cybersecurity program is unique. An effective cybersecurity program must be customized to the unique risk profile of your nonprofit organization; it may differ significantly from one non-profit to the next. Before you can start developing, implementing, and measuring the effectiveness of your security program, you must understand your business, and the information that needs to be secured, and the associated risks you may be exposed to.

Know Your Business
The first step in creating an effective security program is to understand what processes or information must be secured. Determining what needs to be protected requires a deep understanding of your organization. Where it has been, where it’s going, and where it will be in the future all come into play during the security planning phase as you consider revenue sources, client information, leadership goals, expansion plans, and more. Questions like “do you have remote team members who need a secure network connection?“, and ”Do you process confidential client data?” help identify and prioritize areas of need.

Assess Existing Risk
Once you know what your security program will protect, understanding risk early in the planning process helps establish benchmark metrics for success and set a foundation for additional or expanded goals down the road. A thorough risk assessment measures how much damage an incident or other unforeseen force could do when it occurs. Thinking through relevant threat scenarios helps create a realistic security program, so you’ll be better equipped to respond when the real threat comes.

Build the Framework
Once you understand the data that needs protecting and your current risk level, you’re ready to create the policies and procedures that form a well-rounded security program framework. The risk assessments conducted during the planning phase are invaluable as you determine the specific areas of risk each policy should address. From remote access and password sharing to email fraud prevention, each aspect of your security program plays a vital role in either protecting the others or leaving them open to vulnerabilities. If just one security policy or procedure leaves a gap, you leave your organization vulnerable to compromise. No company is too small to be targeted, and every company likely will be at some point.

Some points to consider as you develop your framework:

  • Research how other non-profits in your industry successfully handle sensitive data
  • Involve heads of all business units to prevent unintentional blind spots
  • Work within relevant standards (HIPAA, GLBA, etc.) to maintain compliance
  • Have a security delegate designated in each department to support and enforce the policies
  • Maintain the framework: your security program will need regular updates as your team grows and the risks change

After you’ve developed a solid policy and procedure framework, have all team members read and acknowledge it after they have completed training. This gives team members a clear point of reference by outlining proper security protocols and provides supporting evidence for remediation if a policy is violated.

Get People on the Bus
While your people are your greatest assets, they can also be your biggest liability if they don’t understand your security program. Developing a security minded culture—especially in a fully-remote or hybrid workplace—means focusing less on the tech and infrastructure and more on how you can reinforce team members’ behaviors and habits to best protect your network and data. Team members often unintentionally place your organization at risk – usually by falling for phishing attacks.

As your policies change or expand, continued education helps keep your security program optimized by making sure your team is properly trained at all times. Once they’re equipped to handle data safely, they’ll also be more ready to help respond to cybersecurity incidents when they inevitably happen.


Define and Address Incident Response
Incident response should be a collaborative proactive process—not a defensive, reactive action like many companies currently operate. Outlining how your enterprise and teams define, assess, and respond to an incident or breach is perhaps the most powerful tool in your security plan arsenal.

Your incident response should answer several important questions:

  • What are the most likely incident scenarios?
  • How can we best prepare for these incidents?
  • What should breach or incident reporting and assessment look like? Who will handle incidents when they happen?
  • How can we learn from breaches to prevent future incidents?

    Asking—and answering—these questions before an incident occurs not only helps you be more prepared when a breach occurs but can minimize both the chances and impact of a potential breach. Practicing the plan with live tabletop exercises will help you maintain the integrity of your response plan and keep the key players trained on what to do.


Implement Your Security Program
You’re ready to put your security program into action—but even the best security program will fail without support and adoption from your team members. The easiest way to help your team follow your security policies is to keep them simple and make them specific. Clear communication, regular security training, and dedicated security professionals empower your team to keep your data safe.

As you implement your new security program, keep in mind that no one is perfect, and accidental errors will occur. Give your team members a grace period and offer warnings and corrections instead of penalties as you learn safer security practices together. Encouraging your team members and thanking them for their efforts to support and enforce your policies is crucial in making your security program work.


Get Help
You’ve developed, created, and implemented your initial security plan. But that doesn’t mean your work is finished. Partnering with an expert in IT and cybersecurity will help you maintain your security posture now and in the future. The cyber threat landscape is changing faster than ever. A trusted security advisor can help your organization maintain and prepare your security program to face the cyber risks of tomorrow. Reach out to us and learn now we can help you on your cyber security program evolution journey.


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