Cyber crime is on the rise with more than 1,000 companies reporting breaches in 2016, a 40% increase from the prior year. As hackers successfully target big-named companies, they are also starting to look at small businesses and nonprofits. Why? These smaller organizations typically have little security in place, making it easy for them to “step in,” take what they want, and move on without being noticed. Nonprofit animal shelters and rescues are not safe from these criminals.

As a nonprofit animal shelter or rescue, you need funds and resources to carry out your mission. The best source of revenue you have is receiving donations from supporters. Sometimes that money is hand-delivered, but in most cases, donors provide you with credit card information to make a donation. Electronic financial transactions make you an ideal target for cyber criminals. There are steps you can take to protect your donor’s information and your animal shelter or rescue.

Steps to Keep Donor Information Safe

  1. Use encryption.

Securing donor information starts with how you receive it. Whether you use third-party software on your website or take the information by phone, you need to secure it. Encryption scrambles the information while it’s being processed so an outsider cannot intercept it. Check with your software to make sure encryption is enabled.

  1. Create a password policy.

Many nonprofit animal shelters and rescues store their donor’s information on site. A hacker can break into your server, e-mail, or computers with little effort. You can create a password policy that establishes a set number and type of characters needed. Fourteen characters are recommended by the experts.

  1. Install data security features.

Firewalls and antivirus software help prevent hackers from accessing sensitive donor information. In addition to installing these features, you also need to update them regularly. Put a volunteer with a strong IT background in charge of this task so it doesn’t get overlooked.

  1. Backup data.

Backup your data daily if possible. While this doesn’t prevent hackers from accessing it, it does help you if there is a breach. Some hackers hold information for ransom or block you from being able to access your data. By having a current backup file, you have a complete list of the individuals who need to be notified their information was compromised.

  1. Educate volunteers.

Today’s hackers stop at nothing to gain access to data – often disguising themselves as popup ads or vendors you use. Educating volunteers on phishing schemes, malware, and other unsafe internet activities keeps your information safe from unwanted downloads.

Cyber Liability Insurance

Each of the steps will help keep your donor information safe but doesn’t guarantee a cyber breach won’t occur. Cyber liability insurance protects nonprofit animal shelters and rescues in the event of a cyber attack or data breach by paying costs associated with the crime. Costs include the following:

  • Notifying compromised individuals.
  • Investigation.
  • Legal counsel.
  • Business interruption.
  • Public relations.
  • Defense.
  • Settlement.
  • Bank costs for reissuing credit cards.
  • Regulatory fines and penalties.

Cyber crime isn’t going to disappear overnight, so it’s critical your animal shelter or rescue takes steps to minimize potential breaches and keep your financial resources safe in the event of a breach.

Like many nonprofits, your animal shelter or rescue may rely on volunteers using their personal vehicles to run errands or transport animals in your care. In the insurance community, these vehicles are referred to as non-owned autos. Even though non-owned autos are not the property of your animal shelter or rescue, you can still be held accountable when a volunteer is involved in a car accident. In some cases, animal shelters and rescues are sued for the damage caused in an accident.

The good news is you can protect your nonprofit animal shelter or rescue by purchasing non-owned auto liability insurance.

What is non-owned auto liability insurance?

Non-owned auto liability insurance provides coverage in excess of the volunteer’s personal auto insurance. It pays for liability claims that your animal shelter or rescue is found liable for and the volunteer’s personal auto insurance doesn’t cover.

Since the coverage is in excess of the personal auto insurance carried by the volunteer, most insurance companies require volunteers to carry a minimum of $100,000/300,000 in limits.

What does it exclude?

There is no coverage on the non-owned auto liability insurance for damage to the vehicle, injury to the volunteer, or lawsuits filed against the individual driver (volunteer).

What types of scenarios does it cover?

Any time a volunteer drives their personal vehicle on behalf of your animal shelter or rescue opens the door to potential risks and claims. Do your volunteers use their vehicles in any of the following scenarios?

  • Running errands: Post office, bank, pick up supplies at Wal-Mart or other stores?
  • Transport animals to events, foster homes, or the vet?
  • Take supplies to an adoption event?

Accidents are unpredictable and can occur during any drive.

What you need to know about minimizing your risks

Investing in non-owned auto liability insurance is the best way to protect your animal shelter or rescue in the event of an accident or lawsuit. There are steps you can take now to help minimize potential risks.

  • Create a cell-phone use policy.

Twenty-six percent (more than 1.1 million) of crashes reported are due to cell phone use, according to the National Safety Council. Having a cell-phone use policy sets the expectation that it is not acceptable for volunteers to use their cellphones  while driving on behalf of your animal shelter or rescue.

  • Request proof of insurance.

Ask volunteers for proof of auto insurance before they drive on behalf of your animal shelter or rescue. If they don’t have the minimums mandated by the insurance company, don’t let them drive on your behalf. Why? If there is an accident, your non-owned auto liability insurance policy won’t pay any costs associated with it.

  • Ask volunteers to sign waivers.

Waivers are one way to help prevent your volunteer from filing a lawsuit after a car accident. While they aren’t always iron-clad, they do minimize the number of claims filed and can help protect you if the volunteer was not abiding by the law.

  • Define the right way to transport animals.

Do you have a clear procedure for transporting animals? Or do your volunteers decide how to transport animals on their own? Animals can be a significant distraction to a driver if they are not properly placed in a moving vehicle. Make sure your volunteers understand the process and review their first few times to be sure they get it right.

  • Request motor vehicle records (MVRs).

Motor vehicle records show you an individual’s driving history so you can see if they are a high-risk driver. If a volunteer has a long list of vehicle incidents including crashes and speeding tickets, it might be better to find a lower-risk volunteer.

Most animal shelters and rescues think they don’t need to worry about insurance for volunteer vehicles. But the truth is, buying non-owned auto liability insurance and implementing these steps are the best ways to protect your animal shelter or rescue.

Animal sanctuaries and animal shelters are often considered the same in the eyes of the general public. While they both have a common theme in their mission – to look out for the well-being of animals in their care – they also have some considerable differences. As an animal sanctuary, animals rely on you to provide a permanent home and care. Since your services are unique, you face unique risks each day. It is important to create a customized risk management or best practices plan to minimize those risks and continue to care for your animals.

Risk Management for Animal Sanctuaries

Risk management or best practices are guidelines animal sanctuaries can create to minimize potential dangers during their daily activities. These risks include, but are not limited to, animal bites, scratches, animal sickness, volunteer injury, volunteer death, slip and falls, and animal escapes.

  1. Volunteers

Volunteers are arguably your greatest asset – donating their time and hearts to maintain your sanctuary’s mission. They are also one of the biggest risks. Establishing a volunteer vetting process and handbook is critical to your continued success.

As valuable as volunteers are, it is important to recruit the right individuals for the job. Interview potential volunteers, conduct background checks, and request references before accepting a new applicant. Look for red flags (volunteering at numerous organizations in a short time) and address them upfront.

A handbook sets expectations for volunteers right away. Include attendance policies, job descriptions, safety information, and animal handling procedures. Reinforce the handbook with structured training and education that gives volunteers the ability to show they understand these policies and procedures.

  1. Animal Injury/Sickness

Every animal that comes into your care has a back story. It’s important to have an animal intake policy that digs into their needs, personality traits, and health. Use this information to understand if you can properly care for their needs or not. If you can, identify what special needs each animal has. If they are aggressive towards other animals, create a space where they can roam on their own and plan to socialize them over time.

  1. Animal Bites/Scratches

Animal bites and scratches can occur between animals or between animals and volunteers. The key to minimizing these incidents is educating volunteers on how to handle animals properly. Volunteers should have a clear understanding of the animal’s personality before they work with them. And they should know what steps to take when an animal bites or scratches them.

  1. Animal Escapes

From time to time, we see scenarios on the news where animals escape from sanctuaries. Create a procedure that mandates volunteers work in at least pairs when entering the animal area and describes how to latch gates and contain animals properly.

If an animal escape does occur, it is also valuable to have a set procedure on how you will notify the public, recapture the animal, and keep the community and volunteers safe.

  1. Visitors

Some animal sanctuaries allow visitors on their property. Make sure you have signs labeling what areas are okay and not okay for them to navigate. Make sure all visitors are escorted by a trained volunteer at all times. And keep visitors away from potentially dangerous animals.

  1. Emergency Preparedness

Depending on where you live, there is a chance for natural disasters to occur. During Hurricane Katrina, many animal-related organizations learned first-hand the importance of an emergency-preparedness plan. Identify now how you will transport animals, where you will transport them, and what volunteers are capable of traveling with the animals to a safe location.

Creating a risk management is important for your continued success as a nonprofit animal sanctuary and helps minimize injuries, claims, and stress.