Regularly back up your computer or you'll be sorry

NON-PROFITS INC

March 22, 1993|By LESTER A PICKER

It's probably the only thing my mother didn't nag me about. But my computer consultant sure does.

"Back up your computer regularly," he warns me at least 10 times a year.

To me, "regularly" is relative. Who has time to sit back with maybe 50 or 60 diskettes and back up two huge hard drives?

Well, my cavalier attitude to backing up my computer files ended a few weeks ago. On Saturday, March 6, I turned on my computer to work on some critical client deadlines. Instead, I watched one of my hard disks get devoured by the Michelangelo virus.

As I stared at the message on my screen that read something like "Your business is history, chump," I suddenly got the message. Backing up your computer files once a week makes pretty good sense.

It took us 48 nearly round-the-clock hours to reconstruct files, so we could be up and running again on Monday. We used the latest full backup I had available (a shameful 2-plus months old), supplemented by backups of important client files. All in all, it could have been worse. I even used the experience to tweak my computer software here and there.

But, the crash experience left me humbled. After 10 years of using a personal computer, I finally experienced my first disk crash.

Out of curiosity, I called eight executive directors of small nonprofits and asked how often they back up their office computers. None knew for certain how often they backed up their files, but most thought that it was weekly.

Wrong. After checking with their staff, they called me back. Only one, it turned out, had an office policy on backing up computer files (every week). The others backed up whenever a responsible person (usually the secretary) thought of it.

Next, I asked how they protect themselves from viruses. Two directors of health-care agencies mentioned condoms, although I hear they are useless against computer viruses. None of my sources knew for sure whether they had anti-virus software.

The lesson to be learned from my experience is this: Don't repeat it. Back up regularly and protect against viruses. Unfortunately, my clients will probably be hearing this new convert preach the gospel according to Norton from the consulting pulpit in the months to come.

My excursion into the realm of backing-up-one's-computer-files- after-a-crash was made easier by the use of Norton Backup for Windows, one of many utilities on the market. The program is a snap to use and makes the backing up process less of a chore. Plus, its speed running on a 386 is impressive.

After I reconstructed my hard disk, I was able to back up its entire 125-megabyte contents in about 30 minutes, using some 50 diskettes. Norton also makes virus protection software. Sure wish I had used that program prior to D-Day.

So, if you are a small or midsized nonprofit organization, do have a backup policy in effect to protect against loss of, say, your payroll data or a major grant application. Now might be a good time to take a comprehensive look at crash protection, backup and virus software. The small investment in time and money could pay off big in the future. Real big. Trust me on this one.

(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md., 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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