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Security Seals on Web Sites Improve Donations, Say Rutgers Researchers

Non-profits — including institutions of higher education — may be losing out on potential donations by not using a secure Web site to accept those. In fact, according to a couple of accounting professors at Rutgers University-Camden, only about 15 percent of the 2,000 largest non-profits in the United States include standard security seals on their donation pages.

A security seal is typically signified with the image of a lock somewhere in the URL box as well as a URL that starts with "https://." Those symbols show that nobody can intercept data a user has submitted through forms on that Web page.

As Erica Harris, an assistant professor of accounting, explained, "When you go to a nonprofit organization's Web site, you might see a seal from WebTrust, Symantec or another third party administrator. That seal is there to let donors know that the Web site is legitimate and they shouldn't worry about submitting credit card and other personal information."

"The Web security providers are looking at not only the technical side of Web site security, but also privacy policies to make sure the organizations properly handle donators' information," said fellow assistant professor Joseph Canada. "They're providing assurance that this information is safe."

Obtaining and managing that level of security is complex and pricey — about $1,700 a year, according to the researchers. It's more likely that mid-sized nonprofits will have the seal in place. They've theorized that people making donations to "well-known, established organizations" won't question the legitimacy of the site.

Yet, according to preliminary research, the instructors have found that nonprofits that use a security seal get more donations than those organizations without one.

"What we'd like to know now is how many more donations an organization gets after it implements the Web seal," Harris noted. "Are they getting more donations than before they had the seal in place?"

To find out, the researchers have reached out to Web security administrators to determine when they started their relationships with specific nonprofits. If they find that there was a spike in donations after the security seal was put in place, they'll know it had an impact.

Harris and Canada said they hope to publish a paper on their research this spring.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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