Computer Security Practices in Nonprofit Organizations

A NetAction Report

Section I: Nonprofit Organizations Surveyed

A total of 134 respondents completed our survey.[4] These nonprofits have annual operating budgets ranging from $2,000 to $50,000,000; 64% of them have a budget specifically for information technology, ranging from $250 to $400,000 per year. The organizations have full- and part-time staff ranging from 1 to 3,000 employees, and 80% also have volunteers, consultants, interns or temporary staff who have access to computers. The table below indicates the primary focus of their work:

Table I: What is the primary focus of your organization's work?
Mission FocusPercent# Replies
Civil Liberties3%3%
Civil Rights2%2
Consumer Rights2%2
Digital Divide2%2
Government Accountability2%2
Human Rights1%1
Labor Union1%1
Peace & Social Justice3%3
Social Services9%11
Violence Prevention1%1

About one third of the respondents indicated they were either information technology managers (26%) or experts in terms of their knowledge (8%). Another 36% described their knowledge of information technology as above average, 25% described themselves as average in knowledge, and 5% indicated they were beginners.

Almost all of the organizations (92%) have web sites; 24% maintain their own site and 68% use a web hosting service. Although 99% of them have computers connected to the Internet, only 38% give staff remote access to office computers when traveling or working from home. In a majority of the organizations (55%) all computers are connected to a single internal network. Most organizations (89%) have shared data files on their office computers that can be read and/or modified by more than one person. As the following chart indicates, 22% of respondents reported that some networked computers are also connected to the Internet.[5]

Chart A: Are the computers in your office on a local (internal) network?
(Check all that apply.)

Not surprisingly given its market dominance, the Windows operating system is used by a majority of the organizations. The table below indicates which operating system is being used:

Table II: Which operating system(s) do you use? (Check all that apply.)
OSPercent# Replies
Windows 95/98/Me73%88
Windows NT/200059%71
Windows XP7%8
Mac OS18%21
Unix or Linux13%16

We also asked who was responsible for setting up, maintaining and troubleshooting office computers and networks. In 57% of the responding organizations an in-house information technology manager was responsible, 39% have an on-call consultant, 20% use a repair service as needed, 11% use volunteers and 8% reported everyone was on their own.

Finally, when we asked respondents to list all the ways in which computers were used in their organization, virtually all of the respondents indicated that their organizations use computers for a wide range of critical operations, as indicated in the following table:

Table III: In the list below, please check all the ways in which your organization uses computers.
ResponsePercent# Replies
Word processing99%118
Information management99%118
Email lists79%94
Web site87%104
Staff communications82%97
Board communications73%87
Next: Section II: Computer Security Practices