The cloud can keep you connected with your members and stakeholders.
In the past, you would walk into a shop, buy a boxed set of software, take it home and install it on your computer.
Software was relatively expensive, and not very flexible. Typically, all your work was stored on the same computer, which meant that you needed to remember to back it up regularly or risk losing it all when your computer had a meltdown.
These days, you're just as likely, if not more, to pay a subscription fee to get access to a particular piece of software via the web, and to store your work not on your computer, but in "the cloud".
This doesn't apply only to individuals. Cloud- based applications are increasingly being used by corporations, governments, not-for-profit organisations, universities and schools.
So what is the cloud?
Despite the nebulous term (pun intended), the cloud is simply a large network of computers accessible via an internet-enabled device.
The cloud hosts the applications and services (the software), and stores the data associated with them. We'll come back to this point later, but this functionality makes the cloud incredibly useful and powerful.
Cloud applications and services fall into a wide variety of categories, including:
- File storage
- Team collaboration
- Project management
- Financial records
- Marketing and promotion
- Customer relationship management
- A combination of some or all of the above
What are the benefits?
The world wide web began as a set of static online documents linked to each other. Now, 25 years later, that linked content brings us to the many benefits of moving some of your activities, software and infrastructure into the cloud.
Cloud applications and services are accessible from any computer with an internet connection. They're also available via many apps from smartphones and tablets.
Cloud providers devote a great deal of resources and expertise to the security of the applications you use and the files and data you store.
Collaboration is one of the primary benefits of moving to the cloud. Many applications have built-in collaboration, such as instantaneous and contextual communication, shared note-taking, and team editing of files and data.
Calendar, project management and task management applications, as well as collaboration features, offer the potential for greater productivity.
Cloud platforms provide users with valuable reports to improve workflow, marketing, team effectiveness, client/member engagement, security, and more. Reporting and analytics is an area often overlooked by not-for-profit organisations, yet these tools can facilitate dramatic changes to the efficiency and effectiveness of your organisation.
Value for money
Cloud services and products are often significantly cheaper than traditional software, certainly in terms of overall running costs, and often in terms of initial outlay as well.
Not-for-profit organisations can effectively outsource much of their IT infrastructure and software and concentrate their time, resources and brainpower on their core mission.
But even the cloud has a cloud (it's not all silver lining)
There are lots of good reasons why many companies, governments and organisations are using cloud-based products and services. But there are also challenges.
The pros often outweigh the cons, but be aware of the risks and challenges when deciding what's best for your organisation.
Support is limited
To some degree, you're at the mercy of the providers. Many have limited support and sometimes no obvious point of contact.
You may be a very small fish in their very big pond, and your needs may not be a high priority.
On the other hand, if something goes wrong, you're probably not the only one affected.
Cloud providers have a strong incentive to ensure that everything remains working and service uptimes are as maximised.
Internet connections are not infallible
The cloud relies on the Internet, so if your Internet connection is expensive, slow, unreliable, or all three, working in the cloud might prove difficult or impossible for your organisation.
Rural and regional areas are more likely to suffer, but even in the big cities, if the Internet goes down, so do your cloud-based systems.
Cyber criminals want your data
Cloud services and applications are used by many companies, governments and organisations, making them a tempting target for cyber criminals. Despite big investments in security, nothing on the Internet can be 100% secure. On the other hand, quarantining your organisation from the Internet and going back to paper-based filing cabinets is hardly an option.
Location is important
Many departments, banks, councils and funders may mandate that data is stored in centres in Australia to ensure national laws on privacy and cyber-security apply. It also means data is faster to access.
In the past few years, Microsoft, Amazon and many other large service providers have established data centres in Australia. Google plans a data centre in Sydney in the near future.
Check what's involved in moving your data to a different provider to ensure that if you change your mind later, you're not "locked in".
Cloud apps for not-for-profits
It's worth checking whether your organisation is eligible for discounts or donated products on the strength of its not-for-profit status. Adelaide- based technology group Connecting Up is a clearing house for these deals. You'll need to register online to see what's available.
INFO: Connecting Up (Read more about their software and training options)
Microsoft Office 365: A cloud service centred on Microsoft's Office suite. Users have access to a terabyte of storage and a host of collaboration and other features nota vailable to users of the offline version of Office. Charities may have access to free software or heavy discounts.
INFO: Office 365 for NFPs | Office for business
Google G Suite: Designed to appeal to businesses, schools and not-for-profit, G Suite comprises applications for mail, calendars, task management, word processing, spreadsheets and more. Be aware that Google doesn't have an Australian data centre (yet), and G Suite documents are not fully compatible with those create in Microsoft Office.
INFO: Google for NFPs | G Suite for companies
Marketing and Promotion
Campaign Monitor: For designing and sending marketing and promotional emails as well as e-newsletters and other content. It offers mailing list management, and real-time analytics of who's reading what, to help you to understand and engage with the people you're emailing.
INFO: For not-for-profit users | All users
MailChimp: An email marketing and promotion platform that has much in common with Campaign Monitor. Features an easy-to- use template and email builder; automation tools; personalisation tools; integrations with e-commerce providers; and connections to Facebook, Instagram and Google Ads. Has extensive reporting and analytics tools.
INFO: 15% discounts for NFPs | All MailChimp users
Finance and accounting
MYOB Has a long history in Australia of providing accounting software for small to medium organisations. It offers online-only products, as well as desktop software with online features. Functions vary from from basic accounting to more advanced inventory and job management. Details of NFP discounts are available on application, or via ConnectingUp.
INFO: MYOB | Connecting Up
Xero: A relatively new player in the accounting software industry but one with a significant following. Like MYOB, Xero is designed for small to medium organisations, but it works online only. Compares favourably with MYOB on value for money, customer service, ease of use, integration with other systems, and products and reporting.
INFO: 25% NFP discount | All Xero users
TidyHQ: If you want an all-in-one admin solution, which can manage meetings, events, schedules, tasks, contacts, finance, bookkeeping and stakeholder engagement; and includes reporting tools and recording of minutes, TidyHQ could be what you're after. This system, from an Australian start-up, integrates with third-party providers for payments, marketing, communication, file storage via add-ins, offering tremendous flexibility. And, they've also offered this discount!
INFO: tidyhq.com | $100 off deal for readers
Do your homework
Our list is not an exhaustive compilation of cloud solutions and products. You could write a book on all the products available and it would be obsolete before it went to print. Consider this article a starting point for reviewing your technology needs.
And a disclaimer: Our Community is not associated with any of providers we've mentioned. We strongly encourage you to do your own research so that any IT product or service you choose meets your specific needs.