by Shannon Davenport and Emily Luddy

As association managers you wear a lot of different hats. Staying informed about the latest technology and its implications for your association is just par for the course, so let’s dive right into an important development coming out of the web community: free SSL certificates.

SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, is an encryption tool that provides secure communication over a computer network. The information you send over the internet such as usernames, passwords, Social Security numbers and credit card numbers, travels across the world’s computer networks until it reaches its destination. The security certificate locks up this private data, so it arrives at the destination safe and sound.

You may know more than you think about SSL certificates. Have you ever noticed web addresses that begin with “https://” and have a little padlock icon in the address bar? That means the site has a security certificate. It's a visual cue that says, “Hey, you can trust us!”

What are the implications of that for you and your members? Well, does your organization ask people to sign up for a weekly newsletter? Do you offer online registration for events? Do you collect dues payments?

Then you need a security certificate.

Historically, security certificates were pricey and required dedicated man-hours to complete the validation process. Beyond that, there were fewer companies that acted as certificate authorities, driving the cost up. This was a challenge for mom-and-pop businesses, nonprofit organizations and associations, and other small businesses with limited resources. Without a security certificate, they could not create a safe online environment for their constituents, putting them at an obvious disadvantage.

Now with advancements in technology, security certificates can be provided free of charge!

Let’s Encrypt is just one organization that wants the internet to remain accessible to the entire web community. It achieves this mission by reducing financial, technological and educational barriers to secure communication over the internet.

“We give people the digital certificates they need in order to enable HTTPS (SSL/TLS) for websites, for free, in the most user-friendly way we can. We do this because we want to create a more secure and privacy-respecting Web,” according to a statement from Let’s Encrypt.

With more open cooperation, Let’s Encrypt and other companies offering the same service are creating a higher standard of security for everyone on the web.

This is great news for you and your members. E-commerce and data collection just got cheaper, easier to implement, and more secure.

There is nothing more important than trust between your organization and its members. Trust that you are fulfilling the mission of the organization, that you are acting in the best interest of your members, that you are respecting privacy and personal information through your data collection.

Security certificates allow you to do this on the web, Let’s Encrypt allows you to do it for free.

Shannon Davenport is the lead web developer and Emily Luddy is the director of digital properties for ADG Web Solutions, a division of the Association Development Group, Inc., specializing in affordable, user-friendly web-based solutions for associations.