Nonprofits and the Cloud: A “Marriage” that Makes Sense

Last year, I wrote a blog post entitled, “The Cloud is Not as Amorphous as You May Think.”  As you may be aware, cloud computing is the next state in the Internet’s evolution.  Therefore, I've decided to do a follow-up about how nonprofits can greatly benefit from “becoming one with the cloud,” so to speak.

     First though, allow me to recap exactly what the cloud is and what it means.  According to Chris Woodford, writer for explainthatstuff.com, and the author of numerous books on science and technology, states, “Cloud computing means that instead of all the computer hardware and software you’re using sitting on your desktop, or somewhere inside your company’s  network, it’s provided for you as a service by another company and accessed over the Internet, usually in a completely seamless way.  Exactly where the hardware and software are located and how it all works doesn't matter to you, the user: it’s just somewhere up in the nebulous ‘cloud’ that the Internet represents.”

     If your nonprofit hasn't moved to the cloud yet, I present six common tools you should immediately consider migrating.  These are courtesy of Bloomerang.co’s “Six Tech Tools Nonprofits Should Migrate to the Cloud.”

  • Productivity Suite.  “This is a must for any nonprofit because of the importance of both internal and external communications.  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 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 access to the Internet, you are ready to “rock and roll!
  • 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 the world of Google Drive and Dropbox.”  But, what about security concerns?  Well, just imagine losing all of your files to fire or theft because they were stored in your office--or on an employee’s device.  The cloud is significantly more secure.
  • Email & Calendar.  “Are you a power user of Outlook?  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.  Ironically, the vast majority of those using Outlook also have a Gmail account!”  Bloomerang.co adds, “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.”  Along with Google Calendar, there are  many options for cloud-based calendar programs.
  • Donor database.  Bloomerang.co gives its top five benefits, which are:  no large capital software costs; no additional fees for “hosting;” no versioning or updates required; easy integration with other SaaS (Software as a Service) products; always available 24/7, even via mobile.
  • Accounting.  “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.  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.”

     Here’s the bottom line:  the cloud can provide both savings and productivity gains for nonprofits which executives should seriously weigh and consider.

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