How to Build a Cost-Effective Technology Plan as a Nonprofit Organization
Nonprofit organizations must deliver high value while maintaining low operational overhead. As a result, many nonprofits forgo investing in their technology in fear that their budget would suffer.
But as the technology landscape becomes more-and-more crowded—especially among “Software as a Service” providers—nonprofits are increasingly well-positioned to improve their tech without sacrificing their bottom-line.
In this post, I will outline how a small- to mid-sized nonprofit can assemble a 21st century technology toolkit for less money than one new computer.
First, Take Stock
Before you purchase new technology, you first must determine what you already have, how much you are paying for it, and if it is meeting your needs. Generally speaking, a nonprofit’s technology plan should consist of the following pillars:
- Productivity – the tools you use to get work done. Commonly, these include your suite of editing apps for documents, spreadsheets and presentations, as well as email and instant messaging.
- Storage – where you keep your data. Does your organization use a shared folder on a network? A common Dropbox account? Flash drives? You need to know where your files are kept.
- Security – how you protect your data. How do you safeguard your devices from online threats?
- Marketing – how you reach your audience online. Are you paying too much for an ineffective website?
Once you have this information assembled, you are ready to explore technology upgrades that can actually save you money.
Choose the Right Productivity Suite
There are numerous companies willing to host your email and to deliver the apps you need to draft documents and build presentations. But what is the right option for your organization and what is considered an affordable rate?
There are two main players in the productivity suite space: Microsoft and Google. Microsoft’s Office 365 service is the modern extension of the traditional productivity suite you may already use, with apps such as Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint. Google’s G Suite service is built on its popular suite of web-based apps, such as Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Drive.
Although I use G Suite for my personal business, I recommend Office 365 for the majority of nonprofit organizations. Most nonprofits I encounter are already familiar with Microsoft Office, so the learning curve is significantly lowered. Moreover, Microsoft offers aggressive discounts for nonprofit organizations, decreasing the barrier-to-entry for small- and mid-sized organizations.
The old way of using Microsoft Office involved finding a third-party vendor to host your email and required you (or an administrator) to install the latest version of Microsoft Office on your computers. But the administration of email hosting could be complex and expensive, and if you wanted to use the latest version of the software, you faced significant upgrade costs every three years.
With Office 365, you are subscribing to email and software as a service rather than as a product. As a result, you pay Microsoft monthly to host your email and instant messaging, and to deliver the latest version of its productivity suite to your computers, smartphones and tablets.
A verified 501(c)(3) nonprofit is eligible to receive the entry-level version of Office 365 for free. Although this version does not contain the desktop suite of applications, it is a great option for emerging nonprofits with limited funds. It promotes seamless collaboration among the team and provides each staff member with a professional email address (e.g., [email protected]).
Want a desktop—in addition to an online—experience? For $3 per user per month, you receive the suite of always up-to-date desktop and mobile Office apps.
To learn more about nonprofit discounts for Office 365 and to begin the enrollment process, visit https://products.office.com/en-US/nonprofit/office-365-nonprofit-plans-and-pricing.
Simplify Your Storage
In the age of mobile devices and an “always on” workforce, the location of your data must be easy-to-access and secure. For these reasons, Box is my favorite cloud-storage provider.
Box (not to be confused with DropBox, which is a different company), protects your content but maintains a simple experience. Accessing your files is simple with their website, mobile and desktop apps. (Their desktop app, called Box Drive, mimics the look and feel of a traditional network drive.)
Box supports modern collaboration features, such as real-time co-authoring and file locking. You can even share files and folders with people outside your organization. And, it’s less likely they will get lost in the myriad of OneDrive, Google Drive and DropBox links they probably receive. (Seriously though, at one time I had at least three DropBox accounts.)
Box discounts its services to 501(c)(3) organizations verified through TechSoup. (TechSoup is a nonprofit that solicits donations from technology providers and, in turn, distributes the donations to other verified nonprofits. It is the official donation distributor for many leading technology providers, including Box.)
For a one-time fee of $84, the Box Starter Edition allows for up to 100 gigabytes of storage among up to 10 users. Additional storage space and user seats may be purchased, as needed. To learn more about Box and its pricing for nonprofits, see https://www.techsoup.org/box.
Step-Up Your Security
The latest versions of Windows 10 and macOS are equipped with better antivirus protection than their predecessors. However, strong antivirus protection cannot be overused. Symantec, a leader in the data security space, discounts its Norton antivirus services to 501(c)(3) organizations verified through TechSoup.
The cost of an annual subscription for up to 5 computers is only $12. (Packages are available for up to 20 computers.) The subscriptions include an online dashboard so that you may see at-a-glance that all of your computers are protected.
To learn more about Symantec and its pricing for nonprofits, see https://www.techsoup.org/symantec-catalog.
Reclaim Your Website
Given the prominence of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, does your nonprofit really need a website? Put simply, yes. Although they are effective communication tools, social media platforms are “rented ground.” You are always one algorithm change or privacy scare away from losing your audience. So while you should invest heavily in social media, you must build your “house” on land you own.
Websites have earned a reputation of being difficult to manage and costly. But by employing the right technology, you can easily escape both of these stereotypes.
First, you need to evaluate your choice of platform. While newer website builders, such as Wix and Squarespace, have gained popularity in recent years, they represent walled gardens. In other words, if you build your site in a proprietary service, such as Wix, your options to move later are limited. And due to their subscription model, these kinds of websites may actually cost you more in the long-run.
A much better alternative is to build a website using a modern Content Management System (CMS), such as the free and open-source version of WordPress (WordPress.org).
A WordPress website consists of three main components:
- The provider that hosts your website on their servers (the host);
- The software (WordPress); and,
- The theme that runs on top of the software to create a unique look and feel.
Creating a WordPress website on your own is certainly feasible if you have the time and the desire to learn new skills; however, contracting with a third-party consultant is usually a safer bet. Upwork.com is a great resource for finding a consultant in your area. Or, send me an email.
A qualified consultant will know how to install WordPress and to customize a theme of your choosing to fit your needs.
There are thousands of WordPress themes available to purchase at a reasonable price. To me, reasonable qualifies as approximately $50. Aside from price, you should make sure the theme loads well on mobile devices and is offered by a vendor with a proven track record. My favorite theme vendor is ThemeFuse. I find their framework to be the easiest to use and their designs to be the most visually appealing. To review their themes, see https://themefuse.com/.
Next, you need to find a host. I recommend DreamHost because they offer free web hosting to verified 501(c)(3) nonprofits. Their free tier is great for most nonprofit websites. In the event you need more muscle to handle a large number of visitors or a more complex website, they offer a premium plan, called DreamPress, for $12.95 per month if billed annually.
To learn more about DreamHost’s discounts for nonprofits, visit https://help.dreamhost.com/hc/en-us/articles/215769478-Non-profit-discount.
Technology may seem daunting, but with the right tools and a little perseverance, you can ensure your organization is equipped for the 21st century. For more articles and how-to guides, be sure to subscribe to my mailing list. Have a project in mind you’re looking to complete? Contact me today and learn how I can help.
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