FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Why are we changing the ‘price’ of Friends of PODS?
We started the FOP scheme in 2011 and there hasn’t been a price rise since that time. We’ve done everything we can to keep our costs down, but a number of things have conspired against us this year, including a serious hacking attack on our website at the beginning of January, our offices being broken into twice within a year, and our inability to attract funding from grant-givers for what we do.
We have supported the charitable work of PODS largely through our own efforts, specifically by running training days, and selling resources. But as everyone has found funding difficult, so numbers for our training days have tailed off slightly and despite some redundancies and operating on a really skeleton staff of just three of us, we can’t make ends meet at the current subscription levels. We are faced with a stark choice: either close PODS down, or raise more support. We’d like to try the latter before we have to do the former!
What if I’m a current Friend of PODS?
Obviously, we’d like everyone to increase their support straightaway, and move from an annual payment to a monthly one. Making our income more even throughout the year will be immensely beneficial to us – some months we have almost nothing coming in (like August) and we never know whether September renewals will renew, so it becomes very tense. On a monthly support basis, we’ll have a much clearer idea of what to expect month on month, and can plan better as a result.
If you already have a direct debit in place, but wish to increase your donation, simply set up a new payment by following the link below. We will then cancel your existing direct debit.
If you’re already a Friend of PODS and you don’t feel you can increase your support right now, we’ll honour your current subscription, so you’ll continue to receive ‘Multiple Parts’ until your year’s support runs out. But we’d ask you to consider increasing your support as soon as you feel able.
What about discounts on training days?
Sadly, many people have become ‘Friends of PODS’ just because it makes more financial sense for them, in terms of getting discounts on training days, rather than because they want to support our work. In some cases, it ends up actually costing us money to have them as ‘Friends’! So that’s something that obviously we need to remedy.
It’s also no longer cost effective for us to offer discounts on our training, and from 1 January 2018 we’re changing our accounting structure, so it won’t be feasible to run a discount scheme. However, partly to counter this, we’re going to drop the basic cost of one of our courses across the board. You can still apply a Friends of PODS discount on training days running in 2017.
What if I’m a forum user?
Our online peer support forum is open to Friends of PODS, and we do ask that all active users ensure that they have a current subscription in order to meet part of the cost of us providing the forum. Moderating, overseeing, and supporting users on an individual basis takes up a significant proportion of Elisabeth’s salary costs, and we need to ensure that this is financially sustainable. The new subscription levels will go a long way towards achieving this. If you are on benefits or a very low wage, please talk to us on an individual level to see what is feasible, whilst bearing in mind that we are asking for less than £1 per week.
I’m worried that your website has been hacked – are my personal details safe?
Hacking is a current-day reality that isn’t going to go away. Big businesses, the NHS – everyone is a target, and it is estimated that online crime affects over half the population in any given year. So what we experienced was not out of the ordinary, and not because we were specifically targeted, or we were specifically lax. It’s just something that we have to come to terms with.
Very broadly speaking, there are three main types of hacking attack on a website. Firstly, there is a ‘denial of service’ attack where the server which hosts your website is inundated for requests, becomes overwhelmed, and cannot deliver your webpages. This means you can’t access the website, but doesn’t affect the user. Secondly, hackers deface a website by hijacking links to point to dubious pharmaceutical products, in order to increase their web rankings. The links are often invisible to the casual user, but it causes a lot of damage internally and takes a lot of time to recover the undefaced data. Thirdly, there is an attack which looks to harvest personal and financial details, such as credit card numbers, email addresses and passwords. This has major repercussions for the user if their credit card details, or personal information, is uncovered, and is the most serious hacking attack.
Fortunately, the attack we suffered was of the second kind. Our website was defaced with links to pharmaceutical products, and we discovered it quite quickly, and then worked to restore our site to a clean state. No personal or financial data was compromised, so we were quite fortunate. But it caused a small organisation like ours a huge headache as we lost a lot of data and it took a long time to fully recover from it. In addition, a bit like installing new security when our office was broken into – at significant cost – we also have been working over the last few months to incrementally increase the security of our site, and our newly launched website is the result. Not only is it intended to be easier and better to use, but it’s more secure. You might notice that as you navigate around the site, that it is in fact a number of sites on subdomains: from www.pods-online.org.uk you end up at information.pods-online.org.uk or support.pods-online.org.uk, for example. We’ve done this so that if one area comes under attack, we can silo it off and the rest of the site should remain secure.
You’ll also notice that every webpage now is served over a secure connection – our web address starts https rather than http and there is a little padlock next to it. We’ve been able to do this with the new site and although all of our previous financial transactions took place on an externally-hosted site which was secure, Google kept flagging up to people that the rest of our site wasn’t running on https, which was making people nervous! We’ve rectified this – it sounds a simple thing, but it’s actually been incredibly complicated!
In line with this increase in security, we’ve also changed our principal payment gateway away from Worldpay to Paypal. Worldpay, despite being a leading credit card merchant, has a known issue when running on secure sites! Yes, that’s as bizarre as it sounds! We spent several months trying to get it to work and in the end decided to switch to PayPal.
Not everyone understand what PayPal is – or in fact trusts it – but there are some very good reasons why we’ve plumped for it, despite it being more expensive than Worldpay. The first is that we never get to see your credit card details. We’ve never stored them anyway, but PayPal acts as a go-between, passing data between you the consumer and us the provider. But it does it in such a way that it processes payments on our behalf, while making sure that we don’t see your credit card details. I think that’s a very smart idea! You enter your card details with PayPal once, and you don’t ever have to enter them online again. As long as you keep your PayPal account secure with a strong password that you change regularly, you’re almost certainly safe from online fraud.
For people who don’t want to have a PayPal account, they do offer us the option of taking your payment via credit or debit card, in ‘guest checkout’ mode. So even if you see PayPal, don’t panic – just scroll down and ask to pay by credit/debit card instead.
Our Friends of PODS subscriptions are processed by GoCardless, which is a leading direct debit supplier. Again, we don’t get to see your bank details – a smart way of doing things – and you’re fully covered by the Direct Debit Guarantee. The major bonus for us is that direct debit is by far the cheapest way for us to process payments.
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