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Why you should banish excel from your life...(and other security tips)

I know…I know…we all love Excel, so you probably read that title and just about ran away. But hear me out - I too suffered from excelorosis, a term coined by my buddy Isaac S at Sage70 - basically, this is when we entrust Excel with everything at our non-profit, from volunteer data to our first born…

Are you guilty of this? Is Excel greasing all the wheels at your non-profit? If so - don’t worry, I suffer from this too, but Isaac convinced me on our podcast last week that this is a simply awful idea. It’s a bad plan for a lot of reasons, but the biggest, and most critical is this: security of information. From Drupal hacking to the Target data breach, data is being hacked at an incredible rate. So, if you have all of your volunteer data and connections stored on something as vulnerable as Excel - get ready for some serious data breaches. Excel has absolutely no data security… what’s that you say? ‘our Excel data is password protected!’ Uh.. not so much…any half witted hacker will be able to cut through those excel passwords like a hot knife through butter. Plus - our overuse of Excel as non-profits is really just a symptom of a larger problem: our denial of the threat of getting hacked.

Cybertheft is a massive problem. Don’t believe me? Check out this info graphic , courtesy of sparkyhub.com and shred it.com:


We non-profit leaders cannot accept this! We’ve got to take steps right now to keep our data secure. Our stakeholders have entrusted us with their most sacred asset: their information. And if we fail to keep it safe, our organization and the people we serve will pay the price for it. Here are five things you can do right now to start making your data more secure:

1.) Install updates. Are you a serial procrastinator when it comes to those ‘software updates’ that keep popping up? Stop it. Non-profits are prime targets for hackers because they know that we don’t tend to update our websites, operating systems, and databases with necessary security updates. If you don’t do this - it basically means that even though the security gaps have been fixed, and theft could be avoided, you become vulnerable simply because you clicked ‘ignore’ on those updates.

2.) Get a pro to manage your site. Find somebody who is professionally qualified with internet security, and get them to help you. If that sounds expensive to you, trust me, the costs of a data breach will be much higher than that. Andrew and I have heard countless stories of non-profits who had their websites crashed or otherwise vandalized simply because no one was managing the security of the website. It is for this reason that one of our strongest partners is Firespring - they are the experts at providing affordable data-security solutions for non-profits.

3.) Change your passwords regularly. I can’t stand doing this, because I always forget the new passwords I create, but rotating your passwords is one of the most critical things you can do for data security. So, I found a real simple way to get this done - it’s a tool called 1Password, and basically it’ll do all of this for you. It takes a second to set up - but once you do it, it’ll keep your passwords secure (and easy to remember) for all eternity.

4.) Be aware of ‘phishing’. If you haven’t heard of this, it’s basically when hacker makes a legit looking webpage that makes you think you’re actually on a legit site, like Paypal. But the reality is, the page is just a fabrication designed to steal information from you. You think it’s legit - so you give it whatever info it asks for. This is the oldest trick in the book, but people keep falling for it. Basically, the best way to avoid this is to be aware of it - and to always take a few simple steps before putting out info: -if it’s an email, make sure the sender has a legitimate address (e.g. @paypal.com) -if you’re exchanging sensitive info, be sure the webpage has that little green ‘lock’ in the upper right -double check the name of the weblink, if you plan on begging on Paypal, but the weblink says something like ‘$%^&%&^&%^%’ - it may look like a Paypal site, but it ain’t.

5.) DO NOT HAVE ONE ORGANIZATIONAL PASSWORD. I know too many of us have been guilty of this…not only do we have the same password for all of our logins, but our entire non-profit also has a standard password it uses for shared documents and apps! Stop this now! This means that hackers can break through all of your systems with just one successful password hack. You’ve got to erect all kinds of barriers against this - and multiple passwords is one. Here again, 1Password is a great tool.

Never forget that we have been given a sacred trust: the information of all the people involved with our organization. Data security should be of the utmost importance at our non-profits. Kicking the Excel habit and moving to a more secure way of storing information is a huge first step in the right direction. I’ll leave you with a video can check out that talks specifically about this:

Join the conversation below! How will you work to kick the Excel addiction at your nonprofit?

About the author:

Josh is the founder of Social Change Nation, whose mission and passion is to provide cause based leaders with the best possible resources for growing their movements. He writes on all things volunteer, corporate social responsibility, and other purposeful musings. In his spare time, he loves travelling, reading, hanging with friends, and is a wannabe triathlete.

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