Hosting for Canadian Non-profits

Finding the right host for your website can be confusing...

But it doesn’t have to be! Let us break down hosting options that fit your organization.

Picture this: you’re a Canadian non-profit with a newly designed website ready to launch. Your team worked hard on this website. Making the colours and content to represent your organization took time, but you are excited to let your page go live and establish your footprint online. The next and last step should be sharing your site but there’s one more piece that’s often overlooked: hosting.

You did a quick Google search and found some top-rated hosting services such as GoDaddy and DreamHost. These places will host your website for a monthly fee and get your website accessible to everyone seemingly stress-free. Seems pretty easy to get the job done, but there are a few other considerations. Where will the site’s data be stored? Who has access to it? As a Canadian organization, what happens if the data is compromised? Is your website holding sensitive data that can’t leave Canada? 

There are a few extra steps to look into before considering a host – but don’t fret, we are here to help explain your options.

What is Hosting

Hosting is a web service that stores website data and allows it to be accessible on the internet. To share a website, you need a host.

Hosting is similar to renting a home for your website to live in. A host is just like a property manager, but instead of utilities and building maintenance, it’s making sure servers are stable, secure, and communicating with the internet.

Hosting also affects things such as site speed and stability. These are important measures to think about when selecting a hosting service especially if you want your users to have a positive experience on your site.

How hosting works by starting at the users computer and working to the website files
A diagram showing how hosting works

Types of Hosting options

Hosting is dynamic and many hosts provide multiple hosting solutions. Shared, virtual private servers, cloud-based, and dedicated hosting are some of the common hosting options to choose from. Which one you need is dependent on technical knowledge, website needs, and size of the website or application.

An info-graphic showing the complexities of a server.

One of the most common and basic hosting options is shared hosting. Shared hosting allows for multiple sites to share the same server and/ or resources. The shared server means a lower cost for the user as other sites will also be hosted on the same server. The information of who you are sharing the server with is never disclosed and you will never know what sites you are sharing the server with.

This is one of the best options for small sites or beginner sites starting online. Hosts of this option will handle set-up and take care of the maintenance and server administration. One of the drawbacks of shared hosting is the potential for slower loading speed if the server experience heavy traffic. However, smaller sites should not see a difference in speed performance.

This option is like having a roommate you never see to lower the cost of rent with a landlord to take care of the building maintenance.

VPS still shares a physical server with other sites but now has an allocated space dedicated to your site – this is also referred to as a partition. Getting your own partition can allot specific server specifications for your site. These are great for medium non-profit organizations and eCommerce sites that might see a drastic increase in visitors. Users of this hosting option also receive more customization from the host. However, some knowledge is needed to manage the server and is not as plug-in-play as a shared option.

We view VPS similar to having your own apartment unit. Instead of having roommates, you now have your own space where your site can operate more freely. This will allow for better speeds on your site if there is increased traffic.

Cloud hosting relies on multiple different virtual servers to maintain the site. If one server were to fail or experience high traffic, the other virtual servers would be able to take over to maintain site speeds. This option benefits larger organizations and eCommerce sites with multiple pages that receive lots of traffic. It ensures greater flexibility and scalability for a website or web-based system. While increasing scalability and flexibility can be complicated to configure, smaller sites can be fairly simple to set up with the right hosting provider.

While cloud hosting seems like the best hosting type, it does come with a steeper price tag. Getting more storage or power comes with a higher cost. It’s almost like having access to multiple timeshares your site can live at, choosing the one that allows for greater connectivity.

The last and most lucrative hosting option is having a designated server. The location of this server can be located wherever you see fit – whether within the organization building or somewhere remote. This is a server that is only dedicated to your site. Dedicated servers/ hosting gives the most flexibility, root access to the server, and customization for how you want to configure the server. It is the equivalent of being the homeowner of your property.

However, like owning property, it is quite expensive and requires lots of work to maintain. Typically a dedicated developer is needed to manage a dedicated hosting server. It also requires the highest cost to start up out of all the options mentioned in this list – exactly like building a new home in this day and age.

A graphic created by Ursa Creative summarizing the pros and cons of different hosting services.

Other factors when selecting a host

A laptop showing an internet speed test.

Hosting companies will also offer different server specs within their hosting packages – which boil down to how fast the server will perform.

The faster the speeds, the faster the loading time for web pages. Having fast-loading pages are crucial for having an effective site. Not only is it beneficial to the user accessing the site, but it also helps with increasing ranking for web page scoring which can increase the site’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

These are the specifications to look for when wanting a higher-performing host option:The server type

dedicated server will most likely always yield faster performance than a shared server – especially for larger sites or web applications.

The size of the server

More space on a server allows for the site to share more information and media (such as videos and photos). The type of storage matters. Solid State Drive (SSD) will always be faster than its Hard Disc Drive (HDD) counterpart. A site that is hosted on a server with a large SSD will perform better than a site hosted on a small HDD.

The memory of the server

Memory is designated by the server’s RAM. The higher the RAM storage means the site can process a lot more actions happening at once.

Processing power

Processing power is the CPU of the server. Hosts will usually share this as “cores” or the number of CPUs. More cores or CPUs will allow for better handling of information requests and executing actions of a site.

A graphic showing the cost of different hosting packages through FullHost.

It’s important to remember that the higher the specs of a server also translate to a higher cost of a hosting package. Most host providers offer flexible packages to fit the needs of many different websites or online systems.

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is a form of encryption between a web server (website) and a browser. They help with creating a trusted and safe environment for users to enter sensitive information such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, and login credentials. Normally, information without an SSL is shared with the server as plain text. This leaves the information vulnerable to attackers who know how to intercept data.

SSL follows an encryption protocol which makes sure that the data being transmitted to the server is secure and encrypted. It also takes the Hypertext Transfer protocol (HTTP) and makes it secure (HTTPS). If you ever seen a site url with “https” and a small lock icon beside it, the site has proper SSL certification.

Some hosts will offer the option of SSL certification and will handle the process of making sure the site is secure. The process of getting an SSL certification can be quite technical without the right knowledge – we recommend leaving it to the host to handle to save time.

A http lock is left "unlocked" because the website isn't secured with SSL.

Where the server is located in proportion to where the online service is being accessed matters. If the user is accessing a site hosted on a server farther away, they may have impacted page loading speeds. For any website or web-based application, it’s best to pick a service that offers hosting servers where your users are.

A host server that is located farther away geographically can impact page loading speeds as the data has more distance to travel.

Importance of keeping your data within Canada

Many great hosting services provide flexible prices within North America. A simple site that is looking to host pages of information for their visitors can usually get away with a service that may host the site outside of Canada. However, non-profits that operate and/ or collect personal data of Canadian users will need to respect data residency and make sure their site is also hosted on Canadian soil.

Personal data in Canada is information that is recorded and can be identifiable to an individual. Some examples of common personal data are:

  1. Name
  2. Address
  3. Gender
  4. Sex
  5. Race
  6. Contact information
  7. Documented personal situations and views

In Canada, there are typically two levels of acts protecting personal data residency: federal acts and provincial acts.

The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) is a federally enforced act that protects Canadian personal data. This act regulates the use and where Canadian data can reside within and outside of Canadian borders. Agencies will also have to respect provincial data residency acts, such as British Columbia’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). PIPA prohibits any government, Crown agency, and their service providers from moving personal information outside of Canada.

In Layman’s terms, PIPEDA and PIPA are rules to prevent the misuse of personal data within Canada. It’s clear that our governing bodies in Canada want to keep our data within our borders, but why?

A Canadian flag mad out of circuit boards.

Different laws within each country may allow access to data that is collected via hosts or other servers.

A good example is the Patriot Act in the United States. The Patriot Act allows the American Government and their agencies (such as the FBI) to access and use data freely without needing to contact the owners. This act is typically enforced to protect American Citizens to source nefarious acts or illegal activities that might support acts of terrorism. It increases the separation of personal data from the user and who may have access to it.

This means if a host has a server in the US, the US government may access your data without needing to ask for permission.

While the US is taking data to ensure the safety of its American citizens, it does bypass the right to let the user know their data is being accessed by the US government. It also increases the sharing of user data which may be more susceptible for the data to be placed in the wrong hands or shared through improper means.

Data is valuable. Some hosts may also share data with other third parties. This is common with cheaper or free hosting services. The personal data is either sold or shared with agencies who use it for marketing purposes to build an anonymous profile about the user. Although the profile is anonymous, the users rights are violated as they have not agreed to share their data.

For these reasons, it is better to keep within the Canadian Border.

Hosting and Indigenous Data Sovereignty

Indigenous Data Sovereignty (IDS) reclaims ownership and control of data through OCAP® Principles (Ownership, Control, Access, Possession) of information of Indigenous people. Its main objective is for Indigenous Communities to control their data which contributes to wellness and ethics in a meaningful way. It also is designed to prevent any misuse of data collected by external organizations or agencies while making sure that data that is collected by a third party is inclusive, meaningful and relevant to First Nations.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) recognizes self-determination as a right for Indigenous Peoples. Data Sovereignty is viewed as a key part of self-determination. BC enacted the declaration of the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples Acts, which means the provincial laws must be aligned with UNDRIP.

So what does that mean for hosting? How can a host contribute to Indigenous Data Sovereignty?

While this is an issue that is still currently being discussed, organizations that collect data on Indigenous peoples and Nations within Canada through websites or web-based applications should abide by OCAP Principles. One solution is for First Nation’s to have a dedicated web hosting server within their Nation to store all of their web data. This demonstrates control and ownership of the data knowing it is stored within the Nation.

The other solution is to encrypt the data before sending it to a host, making the data unique and not specific to a person within the server. Both solutions would require specific technical knowledge and time to implement. Indigenous Data Sovereignty is a concept all technology companies should follow or adhere to when working with Indigenous agencies or non-profits that support Indigenous Community members. Our friends over at Animikii have a great downloadable book about recognizing and reclaiming Indigenous Data Sovereignty.

Our recommended Canadian host providers

We always recommend to our Canadian clients and partners to select a Canadian host. While American hosts might have more publicity and marketing, the good news is that Canadian hosting companies offer the same quality of services while still keeping the data within Canada. When we are building a website or web-based software, we usually select or recommend the following hosting companies.

We find Web Hosting Canada offers great deals with plenty of options to choose from. They are primarily a shared hosting provider but do offer cloud and private servers at a reasonable price. Best of all, there are usually tons of sales or promos through Web Hosting Canada which can save you up to 70% depending on which service you select.

We will advise that the user interface can be tricky to navigate for some users. Some servers may experience slower than normal speeds due to it’s shared nature.

Full Host - Best experience for non-profits

Our team at Ursa Creative has a vast experience and knowledge of building systems and websites for non-profits which allows us to understand the user and create a product that will benefit them; Full Host is the same but for hosting.

Full Host aims to offer excellent customer services while understanding the needs non-profits desire for a web host service provider. They aim to have high security to keep client data safe on their servers while also offering flexible pricing and tools that are beginner friendly and easy to use.

Digital Ocean - Best cloud host

We mentioned earlier that cloud-based hosting offers flexibility and reliability for online systems of all sizes. Digital Ocean is one of our favourite cloud-based hosting providers in Canada. Digital Ocean keeps their servers within Toronto which is able to connect to an organization on either coast. Their interface is simple to use, allowing users of any level to monitor their sites activity hosting configuration.

What works best for non-profits?

Now that we have outlined the different hosting options, companies, and some constraints to look out for, which would be the best for non-profits? The answer is subjective.

It truly depends on the size of the organization and what the goal of the site is. If the site is purely to establish the organization’s presence online and share services with the community, a basic shared hosting option could suffice.

If your site has a back-end system where members access services and/ or holds a database of information, we recommend Cloud or dedicated hosting.  These options that can process large amounts of information without sacrificing the speeds of the system.

We must echo that the best option is purely situational and may change based on the organization’s needs. 

Still don't know which option to select? We can help

Even with all the information presented, selecting a host can still feel like an overwhelming process. 


We bring good news! Our team at Ursa Creative are experts in finding the hosting needs of an individual site or system. We’ve built years of experience working with non-profits and other Community agencies. Our hosting knowledge allows us to tailor the best service for all our clients and partners.


We are always happy to connect and help guide developments in the website and application-building journey. Contact us and let’s find the right hosting option for you.

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