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The recent NTEN survey revealed there is, on average, one information technology employee for every 30 nonprofit employees per organization. This struck me as a bit odd since at least 90% of all registered nonprofits have less than 30 employees. In fact, the vast majority have 10 or less!

Where does this leave that silent and perhaps forgotten majority?

Smaller nonprofits who cannot afford a full-time IT employee are left to set-up and maintain complicated technologies, such as productivity tools and CRMs, on their own. Existing applications typically go un-updated, due to cost or fear of incompatibility with aging hardware.

Thankfully, the advent of low-cost and easy-to-use cloud-based technologies allow nonprofits with a shoestring budget and skeleton staff to achieve the same level of technological sophistication as any large organization.

If your nonprofit still hasn’t moved to the cloud, here are six common tools that you should consider migrating immediately.

1. Productivity Suite

This is a must for any nonprofit because of the importance of both internal and external communications. Like several of the other areas of technology, Microsoft grew to dominate this with its suite of Office products. Even though web sites like TechSoup (my personal favorite) allow most nonprofits to purchase the tools at deep discounts, purchasing and maintaining a server or servers so the documents created can be shared easily run the costs up rapidly.

Enter Google Docs and its free cloud-based alternative (free up to 15GB of storage) to Microsoft Office. You can utilize a word processor, spreadsheet program and a presentation program that are fully compatible Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint (as well as the Apple alternatives). Since it’s cloud-based, anyone in your office who is added to the account can access the files (they have permission levels as well). No more emailing attachments and worrying about which version is the most up-to-date.

As long as you have Internet access, you are in business! Yes, this means you can work at your home, a coffee shop, another organization, an airport, your car as well as your office. It is quite easy to become hooked on both the convenience and savings!

2. File Storage

Do you have years of electronic files stored on various desktop computers and laptops in your office? Have you ever had to comb through them to find the one file you needed? Or struggled to find the correct power cord to an external hard-drive so that you could access the files stored therein?

What if there was a centralized location for file storage that could be accessed by anyone in the organization, from any machine?

This is not some far off dream. This is the world of Google Drive and Dropbox. It is truly hard to describe how big of a difference this system of storage makes.

If you’re concerned with security, as many are when it comes to cloud storage, imagine losing all of your files to theft or a fire because they were stored locally on an employee’s device. Cloud storage is significantly more secure than the alternative.

3. Email & 4. Calendar

Are you a power user of Outlook? I was for more years than I care to admit! Part of me wondered why when I started understanding the underlying costs involved for not just the license fees from Microsoft, but also for a beast called Exchange Server.

Even though it can now be hosted in the cloud, the cost of ownership and upkeep is often beyond the reach of small nonprofits and monopolizes the budget of small-to-medium-sized nonprofits.

The Outlook saga of complexity and cost continues for many. Ironically, the vast majority of those using Outlook email also have a Gmail account!

Gmail can now be your primary email account and work fluently with the other portions of the Google cloud infrastructure. Easy and virtually no training are again the standard rather than the exception.

In addition to Google Calendar, there are many options for cloud-based calendar programs, all with the same (and sometimes more!) bells and whistles as Outlook.

5. Donor Database

The benefits of using the cloud really come shining through here. I could go on and on regarding the benefits, but here are my top 5:

  • No large capital software costs
  • No additional fees for “hosting”
  • No versioning or updates required
  • Easy integration with other SaaS products
  • Always available 24/7, even via mobile

These are especially true for SaaS (software as a service) products rather than those hosted via a cloud simulation like Citrix.

Such simulations can truly be a wolf in sheep’s clothing if you are not careful. This chart is useful for judging.

6. Accounting

Accounting may be the last bastion of locally installed software for many nonprofits.

Why?

This function for most small to medium nonprofits is still handled by a single person.

Ironically, this information in accounting systems should also be shared with the executive and fundraising team, especially high-level dashboard metrics. Then such information becomes even more powerful.

The solutions have been a bit slower in coming here for the charity world. However there are true cloud based offerings like QuickBooks Online and Intacct.

Wrap-Up

In the next decade or two, it is most likely all of us will think about installed applications much the same as we do about black and white TV or non-smart phones. Hopefully, this primer can provide a glimpse into the savings and productivity increases “Cloud” based offerings can provide for your nonprofit.

Please let us know how your cloud journey unfolds!

Are you looking to move your donor database or fundraising software solution to the cloud? Be sure to download our “Buyer’s Guide to Fundraising Software” before you get too far into the process!

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The Buyer's Guide to Fundraising Software

Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman.
Jay Love