How Password Pilferers Undermine Organizational Sustainability

It happened again today.

A new Granted Fundraising Consultants client had no idea what their login information was for the online portal for one of their largest annual grantors. I actually sighed aloud at my contact’s confession (making me eternally grateful our conversation occurred over email).

It is actually not this contact’s fault they can’t find the relevant passwords to gain access to even their most prolific grantmakers….yet. As a brand new executive director, this professional inherited the processes (or lack thereof) that have been in place in the organization since their predecessor’s time (or even since the organization was started). Some previous employee of this nonprofit had clearly set all the grant passwords and had never shared them with anyone else. In other words, this organization had been struck by a password pilferer! While this is certainly an annoying—and all-too-frequent—occurrence, it can also cause a substantial blow to your organization’s image and sustainability. Relationships, especially funding-related ones, should belong to the organization, not one employee. Password pilferers effectively own the connection your nonprofit has with a funder and then take it with them when they leave.

When you lose your password for a grant application portal, and you don’t at least have the login email or user name, you lose all ability to quietly and discreetly submit an automatic password reset request. Instead, you are forced to call the grantor directly, tail between your legs, to reset everything. Such a phone call does not indicate that your organization is a sustainable, well-oiled machine. And any time you enter a competition for limited funding—which is exactly what each grant application is—your organization simply cannot afford to draw negative attention to itself, especially before you even submit your application. If I’m sighing at my computer reading an email, imagine what the funder is doing once you’ve hung up the phone— not a pretty sight, is it? 

(Side note: Please don’t fall into the habit of creating a new account for your organization every time you can’t find your login information, just to avoid talking to the funder. When you do this, you are essentially doing the same thing as a child who hides their clothes under the bed, so they can deny their existence and avoid putting them away. Grant administrators hate this, and your actions will not go unnoticed!)

The time for nonprofit staff—including new EDs— to make a password / login info tracking document is now. At minimum, a spreadsheet with both the grantor and the user name for their online portal. (Generic emails are preferred, since those aren’t tied to specific people but rather, to the organization itself.) You can store passwords in the same sheet or on a separate sheet in a different folder if you are more comfortable with that. Google Docs, iCloud, Dropbox, Box, or any other of the myriad file sharing services out there also make it easy to share and update login info in real-time.

Regardless of the tracking methods you decide to use, make a process and reinforce it often. In fact, each grant application presents an opportunity to reinforce your chosen system.  (Hint: Your process should include a clear indication of who is updating what, where, and when.)

Not all staffers need access to the organization’s grant portal passwords, but make sure any senior-level administrators and development team members have access. Let me rephrase for all you departments of one out there: Make sure someone else can find grant portal login info, in the event you find yourself unable to access your computer files for some reason (like that vacation you want and deserve)!

If this post seems like I am nagging about a small, insignificant thing, I ask you to consider the following quote:

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Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together...”

-Vincent van Gogh

Don’t let password pilferers steal your sustainability! Make sure your login information for all your online grant portals can endure the test of time and staff turnover. Take small steps now to make GREAT THINGS (i.e., GREAT GRANTS) happen for your nonprofit.

Laura Chynoweth