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08 August 2018

The Importance of SSL for Nonprofits

An active online presence is essential to promoting your nonprofit organization’s campaigns. But that doesn’t mean you need to know all the intimidating Internet jargon. Even though it is safe to leave many of these terms for the webmaster to decipher, there are some abbreviations that even non-techies should recognize. The SSL certificate is a prime example of a website feature it pays for you to understand.

https browser bar

What is an SSL certificate and what types are available?

The SSL certificate testifies that your website has a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). This software helps secure data transferred between your website and the website browsers of your users. Take a look at the address of your website. If it includes the letters “https://” it means a certificate file is installed on the server. It shows visitors that their data is encrypted. They can browse knowing their personal information won’t fall into the wrong hands.

The certificates are available for a fee or free of charge. If you represent the typical nonprofit with little funding to spare, the obvious question is, why pay if you could get one for free? Private non-commercial bloggers should be able to use one of the free options. Firms such as Let’s Encrypt or one available in open source format are good free options. However, free SSL certificates come with various limitations; for example, they are often only valid for a few months and might not be renewable.

Paid SSL certificates are far from cheap, but they last for longer periods. They also provide a higher level of liability protection and enhanced transaction security (for example, via Extended Validation SSL certificates). If any kind of financial transactions take place via the website, the paid SSL option is recommended.

Do you need SSL even if you are not running an e-commerce site?

Over recent years, the public has become more aware of the dangers of sharing data online. Some fraudsters even set up websites that are hard to distinguish from legitimate banks to cheat their clients. These disturbing news items understandably make people extra cautious about online transactions. Website owners must address these legitimate security concerns.

Clearly security is crucial for websites selling goods and services, but it is also highly relevant to many nonprofit sites. Perhaps you want visitors to pay a membership subscription, to make a donation or even buy promotional products? If visitors see that your site has no SSL certificate, they may worry that the data they transfer in transactions may be compromised. How many visitors would take such a risk to make a financial contribution to your organization? Without a doubt, many potential donors will turn away. If visitors feel secure in sharing data with your website, the extra donations could justify the expense of an Extended Validation SSL certificate.

Why is it important for Google

A 2014 Google policy change made having the SSL certificate much more significant — they decided to give websites with these certificates a little higher rating in search results. A few months ago they provided an additional reason for website owners to take security issues more seriously. Now they mark all websites that handle financial and password data as “non-secure” unless they have SSL certification.

While e-commerce sites are Google’s prime target, if your nonprofit website solicits contributions or password entries you have to take note of their policies. Good website search engine optimization (SEO) and domain names remain more important determinants of Google search results rating. Yet don’t to lose out from an improvement to your search engine ratings by having the certificate.

encrypt everything!

SSL Certification shows supporters you care

Each nonprofit must consider the extent that their lack of SSL certification will discourage visitors to donate or share personal information. They also need to weigh up the negative effect on their Google search results ratings. SSL certification gives your online supporters a clear sign that your care about their data security, and encourages them to share information with your site.

Amar Trivedi

President and founder of AmDee, Amar provides insight of nonprofit technology through occasional guest blogs for AmDee and others. He has been a software developer and architect since the mid-1990s.