The best way to prepare for any disaster is to keep your data backed up. There are two broadly defined approaches to backup:
Remote backup: Your computer automatically sends your data to a remote center at specified internals.
Local backup: Your computer copies your data to a second hard drive or other media source, either manually or at specified intervals.
Either route (or both) may be appropriate for your nonprofit. One thing to keep in mind is that if you live in an area that’s susceptible to natural disasters, then it may not be a good idea to trust local backup alone. It’s possible that a disaster could claim both your primary and back-up drives, even if you keep the back-up drive at a different location in the same city.
Regular backups are vital insurance against a data-loss catastrophe. Developing a solid back-up plan requires an investment of time and money, but the cost is far less than the burdensome task of recreating data for which no backup exists.
What to Back Up
Before jumping into a backup solution, you should first put together a list of what assets need to be backed up. Of course you should back up the data on all of the desktops, laptops, and servers in your office, but that might not cover all of the data that your organization may need to recover.
Save Time by Spending Time Susan at the Eagle’s Nest Foundation is no stranger to IT disasters. ENF’s remote campsite frequently deals with power and Internet failures. Susan had this to say about regular backups: “It's better to ‘waste’ the time backing up than to dread the effects of a disaster that could happen any time. Redundancy in communication options is very important, as is having off-site resources for communication when your systems are down. We have two offices in different parts of the state: this gives us an excellent natural backup strategy.”
Home Computers and Handheld Devices
Do one or more of your employees, contractors, or volunteers work from home? Are they saving their work on a personal computer? If so, this data should be part of a regular backup strategy.
Many remote backup services allow you to install a client on a home computer and designate specific folders on that computer to be backed up. As a simpler alternative, require that homework be saved to a work computer every day. Employees can do this simply by transferring data on a flash drive or by accessing the office network through VPN (see TechSoup’s Introduction to Virtual Private Networking). For handheld devices, refer to the device's manual for backup instructions.
You should also think about keeping an additional backup of essential files on your mobile device. For more information, see Backing up Data on Mobile Devices on Page 31.
Is your organization’s website regularly backed up? If you don’t know, ask your web hosting provider. Find out how regularly the provider backs up your website data and how recovery is handled if an accident occurs. Be sure to check with your provider: even if they offer a backup service, it may be opt-in only.
Especially if your provider doesn’t perform backups (but even if it does), there are many reasons to keep a copy of your website on an office computer. If you start the habit of editing your site on your computer rather than directly through an FTP connection, then you can test the site before uploading it and you’ll always have the up-to-date site ready to upload in case of computer failure or human error; what’s more, you won’t need an internet connection to make edits to your site or find information on it.
Remember all that documentation you did in Chapter 1 (Page 16)? Don’t forget to back it up too. Keep it on your USB master key, but be sure it’s also stored securely in a backed-up folder on your computer (for more about security, see Page 32).
Does your office have a lot of internal data stored only in hard copies? For example:
This type of information should be stored in a waterproof safe or file cabinet as well as backed up electronically (either scanned or computer-generated).
If your organization uses an in-house email server, it must be a part of your backup plan. Many email servers include their own backup utilities; check the user’s manual for more information. If mail is stored locally on users’ computers and not on the mail server, the mail folder on each computer must be backed up.
If you only use a popular webmail service like Hotmail or Google Apps for Nonprofits, these services are generally considered safe from hardware failure. If you use a webmail service that was offered through your Internet service provider, find out whether the ISP backs up your email.
Tip Microsoft offers a backup utility for Outlook 2003 as a free download.
Outlook Add-in: Personal Folders Backup
If you have an extensive bookmark collection in your browser, be sure to back that up as well. You may choose to periodically export your bookmark file from within the program, or point to the bookmark file itself in your backup software. Check the application's Help tool or consult the web for details.
Social bookmarking sites like Delicious have gained a great deal of popularity in recent years, thanks in part to their immunity to hardware failure. For more information, see the TechSoup article Thirteen Tips for Effective Tagging.