Having spent 15+ years of my life volunteering for all sorts of nonprofit organizations and roughly the same in Information Technology profession, I am quite pleased to finally see the moment when the modern and powerful tools such as SharePoint and Office 365 are available to mainstream organizations and individuals. Up until recently, SharePoint was a tool of choice for the big guys – organizations with large IT departments and deep pockets. Not anymore. With the release of Office 365 and SharePoint online, Microsoft has leveled the field for many smaller organizations. There are obviously other tools on the market, like Google Apps and DropBox which historically have been great for info exchange, but Office 365 has that special appeal, especially to nonprofits. Let’s take a look at the top 5 reasons:
#1: One Stop Shop
One of the biggest draws. If you are like many other nonprofits, you probably have your email accounts hosted with some 3rd party providers like Yahoo or Google and documents stored all over the place (i.e. DropBox or personal drives). With Office 365 you can have it all in one place! That’s right, you can have your email hosted in Office 365 and documents stored in SharePoint or OneDrive Pro. You can even have your website designed and hosted in Office 365 if you wish! Another big convenience appeal is the fact that users only need to bookmark 1 URL to get access to everything that is included.
There are many different features and perks that come with Office 365 for nonprofits depending on the plan you choose, but here are some of them that make one stop shop:
- Business-class email (Exchange)
- Online conferencing (Lync)
- File storage and sharing (SharePoint or OneDrive
- MS Office (Online or Desktop versions)
#2: Predictable Costs
Since for all plans you pay fixed fee per user, it is super easy to budget for the services. No longer do you need to guess on hardware (server) and software licensing costs or IT support – it is all “included” in the pay per user fee.
#3: Single source for information
Your organization’s files are stored on DropBox, personal drives, someone’s Google account and network drives. Sounds familiar? It is impossible to control the versions and duplicates. Moreover, nonprofits typically have higher turnover ratios than other organizations (mostly due to changing volunteers base). That means that when people are gone – so are the files they worked on. SharePoint and Office 365 by itself would not resolve those issues, it comes down to polies and procedures around the tools – but they can definitely help enforce them via designated repository and solid workflows in SharePoint.
#4: Scalability and customization
What I particularly like about the offering is the sheer power of SharePoint customizations you can do. You can use document libraries for document sharing, calendar for tracking meetings and events, task lists for task and project management, email alerts for notification, convert hidden Excel-based data into SharePoint for viewing and collaboration. And that is just the basics. You can also configure it as a business process tool with various workflows, approvals and scenarios. And there is so much more! This is really where SharePoint and Office 365 rise above the competition – its customizations are limitless!
#5: Permissions and Security
An often overlooked benefit, but very important one. At a user level, SharePoint and Office 365 allow for setup of various security groups which control permissions to sites, pages, libraries and other content. You can customize it any way you want, which give you the power to control who sees what. At the organizational level, you no longer need to worry about backups, hackers and data loss. Since your files are now in the cloud, Microsoft controls the security aspect and spends millions of dollars on the effort, something most organizations (especially non-profits) can’t even think about affording. So rest assured that your data is safe and sound!
#6: Bonus reason: Office 365 for nonprofits discounts!
Microsoft has implemented a brilliant plan to seduce nonprofits who otherwise would not even consider moving to the new platform – by offering the service completely free or at a significant discount (depending on the plan). It is not for all nonprofits, you have to have certain cause and satisfy other criteria. Requirements can be found here at this link: