Cross the Divide was founded with a simple mission: Bringing technology and nonprofits together. Because we work exclusively with nonprofits, we understand that the work you do for society is immeasurable, but your budget is finite. One way to maximize your technology budget is by moving to the cloud. You probably already are halfway there. Many estimates claim that 90% of nonprofits are using cloud technology already – even if it’s just for email accounts and online file storage. However, fully migrating to the cloud isn’t always cheap or easy. Here are a few of our best tips for making the transition easy on your team and your bottom line.
Why Should Nonprofits Move to the Cloud?
Some nonprofits delay moving to the cloud because they imagine this new technology option carries a price tag that would be too high for their budgets. They often don’t realize that one of the highest IT expenses – and the most challenging from a cybersecurity perspective – is housing information yourself. Maintaining and powering a server room as well as hiring and retaining an in-house IT team to do so is far more costly than many realize.
The cloud is a viable option because it allows nonprofits to reduce the costs and headaches of maintaining on-premise infrastructure. When your organization eliminates servers and hardware, you no longer have to invest funds on maintenance, expertise, power, and even utilities and rent.
While moving to the cloud can reduce your expenses, there are many other factors that you should consider before deciding to leap.
Nonprofit Cloud Considerations
Before you consider moving to the cloud, you should make sure you have the infrastructure in place to do so, which in this case, means your internet. Make sure you have enough bandwidth and speed to accommodate all the staff, volunteers, and clients who will be tapping in. It should also be redundant, because if your internet goes down when you are on the cloud, so do you. Work with your internet provider to ensure that your current systems are up to speed before you make the switch.
The next major consideration is which product(s) you want to use. There is no shortage of cloud offerings, with new ones popping up continually. Some of the most well-known include Office 365, G Suite, Amazon Web Services (AWS), IBM Cloud, Oracle, and VMware. Each has different advantages when it comes to what you’re looking for in the cloud.
If maximizing your budget is your primary goal, both Microsoft and Google have free versions of their products for nonprofits. Do understand as you are considering these platforms and any others that offer discounts that you will have to be approved by them as a nonprofit to receive nonprofit pricing – and their requirements can vary.
Microsoft Office 365 for Nonprofits
Because Microsoft is one of the largest platforms for non-profits and businesses alike, we are going to explore Office 365 for nonprofits in more detail. The five most common tiers organizations can choose from in the Office 365 suite are Business Basic, Business Standard, Business Premium, E3, and, and E5.
Let’s start with Business Basic, which is free for nonprofit grantees. With the Business Basic product offering, you get SharePoint, OneDrive, and Teams, along with the web and mobile versions of Word, Excel, Outlook, Exchange, and PowerPoint. This product can be an excellent option for organizations that don’t need the desktop versions of these apps. It comes with 1TB of cloud file storage and business-class email.
This is the first upgrade (currently priced at $3 per user/per month with an annual commitment), which adds desktop versions of the apps, webinar hosting, and PC versions of Access and Publisher.
Business Premium is currently free for up to 10 users with a grant, which makes this a wonderful option for small nonprofits, otherwise, it’s currently priced at $5.50 per user/per month with an annual commitment. This tier adds advanced security, device management, and cyber threat protection.
Once your nonprofit reaches more than 300 users, you’ll have to switch to the enterprise-level plans that start with the E3 plan. In comparison, the E3 offering is $9 per user/per month with an annual commitment.
E5 is the most expensive plan for nonprofits, at $22.80 per user per month with an annual commitment. It does pack in extended security features and a complete phone system, which might be a savings for organizations whose phone costs alone are more than that each month.
Microsoft 365 Products
What exactly do the apps and programs offered in Microsoft 365 do? Here’s a snapshot view of some of their features that you might be less familiar with than the standard software offerings like Word and Excel.
Let’s start with OneDrive. Initially, OneDrive was intended for storing one individual’s data, but many organizations used it as a sharing platform. To facilitate usage, Microsoft created new integrations to easily create shareable links in Teams and add shared files from Teams or SharePoint to OneDrive, although at its heart, it’s still meant for individual storage.
If you want to share your files with team members, SharePoint remains the app that’s designed specifically for doing so. It allows you to share your documents and presentations and also to set permissions for who can view and edit each file or folder.
If your team is accustomed to using a messaging and organizing platforms like Slack or Asana, Teams is comparable, with some additional benefits. You can chat, create group messages, send files, set up to-do lists, create video conferences, and more. It helps improve communication and efficiency in nonprofits by putting everyone on literally the same page.
Yammer isn’t well known, but it has some features for nonprofits. Yammer groups are essentially an online community of like-minded individuals centered around a common theme or hobby. So, if your nonprofit helps orphaned children, you might be able to find a Yammer group focused on that or a similar topic. That allows you to chat, share ideas, and learn from other members who are interested in your particular topic.
Another lesser-known Microsoft product is Sway. Think of Sway as PowerPoint on steroids. It lets you create presentations without the confines that a slideshow contains. It’s very visual and allows you to be more creative and bolder.
To Do, Planner & Flow
Start with To Do, which as its name implies, helps individuals keep track of tasks they need to do in a list format. Planner takes that a step further as a project management software. While it lacks complex capabilities, it allows you to map out main projects, sub-projects, and individual tasks. Finally, Microsoft Flow is a workflow system that allows you to automate certain tasks, freeing your team to do more of what they are good at.
Power BI allows a nonprofit to take data from many different sources and build reports in a single dashboard. Because individuals can easily visualize and track key performance indicators and success, it puts data in the hands of more individuals at all levels of your organization.
Microsoft has another cloud option that might be more useful to some nonprofit organizations — Azure. Microsoft Azure is Microsoft’s server cloud platform, and Microsoft gives away $3,500 of Azure consumption every year to eligible nonprofits for free. Depending on how much an organization is consuming in Azure, it potentially could cover its entire cloud infrastructure and servers – or a significant portion of them – for free.
Azure offers features and services that an organization can choose to set up. These services are billed monthly based on consumption and other factors. However, they might offer nonprofits more value than they cost, depending on your needs.
Azure Security Center
One service offered in Azure that we recommend for all of our nonprofit clients is Microsoft Defender for Cloud. With this service, you can sync the cloud with an on-premises server or a cloud-based server and receive continuous security assessment of your cloud resources that are running in Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud. It provides templates and wizards for setting up secure servers and notifies your team when there’s a threat.
Azure Active Directory
Speaking of cybersecurity, when you’re moving to the cloud, security becomes more of a focus. To better manage users, Microsoft offers a service called Active Directory in Azure. This enterprise identity service provides single sign-on, multifactor authentication, and conditional access, it boasts that it guards against 99.9 percent of cybersecurity attacks. This includes ensuring you have a good password policy.
Azure SQL Database
One of the key pieces in the technology puzzle for nonprofits is data management, and Azure offers a service to help with SQL Database. This fully managed relational database service is built for the cloud. Its database engine automates updates, provisioning, and backups, freeing your team to focus on the information going into the database instead of the behind-the-scenes mechanics of running it.
Azure Blob Storage
Before you can analyze data, you need to find an appropriate way to store it. Enter Blob storage from Azure. This kind of storage is ideal for unstructured data such as text or binary data. Blob storage can be particularly beneficial for nonprofits because it offers large amounts of data that is easily accessible, affordable, and most importantly, secure.
It’s not a secret that ransomware is a growing threat to nonprofits. In fact, 80% of organizations were hit by a ransomware attack in 2021, according to Forbes. One key component to protecting your nonprofit cloud is making sure it’s backed up. Microsoft’s tool to do so is called Azure Backup. In theory, this tool allows you to simplify your backup process by eliminating duplication. In practice, you’ll always want to consult with IT experts to determine the level of security that is right for your nonprofit.
Azure Site Recovery and Acronis
What happens if your site does go down? In today’s world, it makes sense to be prepared in case of emergency – whether that’s a natural disaster or a cyberattack. That’s where Azure Site Recovery steps in. This tool is ideal for backup because it replicates your server and stores it in the cloud. Acronis is another backup and replication tool from a different company that also fulfills that need. Both tools give you a full copy of your settings, configuration, users, and more so that if your server does become incapacitated, you are not starting from scratch.
A fairly large expense and challenge for nonprofits with many staff and volunteers is affording a phone system that does everything you require. That is particularly true if you have remote workers who are using their own cell phones to stay connected. Moving to the cloud allows you to take advantage of VoIP (voice over internet protocol). In essence, this puts your phone systems in the cloud, making them accessible from anywhere and freeing your people from being tied to a desk. The secondary benefit is VoIP is generally far less expensive than a traditional phone system.
We mentioned earlier that Microsoft’s E5 plan includes a full phone system, which might be the simplest answer for large nonprofits. For small- and medium-sized nonprofits, there are myriad providers out there who can deliver only the services you require, and many of them have nonprofit pricing. With this type of phone system, you can sync your staff and volunteers wherever they are. Click here to read about additional features and benefits that might work for your organization.
Is the Cloud Right for You?
Many varied pain points motivate nonprofits to make the switch to the cloud. Some of the most common include reducing the costs of buying and maintaining physical infrastructure, freeing your internal IT support team to focus on more critical areas, increasing productivity and connectivity of remote staff and volunteers, and reducing overall IT costs. Another huge motivator for nonprofits is safely managing sensitive client and donor data and providing better security for your systems. Nonprofits have an advantage over businesses in that they often can take advantage of special pricing, making a move to the cloud even more cost-effective.
Want to learn more about moving to the cloud or other fully managed IT services that might be right for your nonprofit? Reach out to us today!