Nonprofits & the Cloud: Is it time to rethink your IT?

Today, the benefits promised by cloud computing—including agility, process optimization, speed to market, remote access, and cost reduction— have inspired most nonprofits to rethink their IT infrastructure and software.

Traditionally, organizations needed to invest in hardware and software in-house and had tried to leverage internal economies of scale; the more people using the system, the more cost effective the technology investment. However, housing technology infrastructure and critical applications in-house was not always cost effective for smaller organizations and came with inherent risk. What if your email server was down? How regularly is data backed up? Who was performing the software patches and handling security updates? And how does an organization continue to operate during a natural disaster?

For over 10 years, Sinu has worked with small businesses and nonprofits to provide technical solutions on a per person subscription basis. We have found this to be advantageous for nonprofits that typically divide their budget by programming and operations. With a per person fee for technology (whether it is with the Sinu service or a cloud service), nonprofits can show the cost of IT associated with each person in programming rather than having all the costs of technology allocated to operations. This allows benefactors who fund programs to help support the technology for those programs, as well.

Today, we encourage our nonprofit customers to rethink their IT infrastructure and software because most critical applications, including donor management programs, have a cloud strategy that was not available just a few years ago. Furthermore, there are immediate benefits that most organizations can experience when adopting some of these hosted solutions.

Based on our experience, we suggest a number of different strategies for nonprofits seeking to migrate more services to the cloud. 

1.     For nonprofits with less than 1,000 employees, we suggest moving at least 80 percent of basic infrastructure into the cloud over the next three years. Email and backup are critical and should be migrated immediately. Payroll is another critical application that can be moved to the cloud to help avoid disruption of compensation for employees.

2.     If an organization uses a traditional constituent relationship management (CRM) system, such as Salesforce or Razor’s Edge, you will sleep better at night knowing that your mission critical data about donors, volunteers, and constituents is housed off-site. Cloud-based CRM systems can also reduce infrastructure and support costs. Unlike traditional CRMs that typically charge both a site license and individual user licenses (not to mention the hardware costs), most cloud CRM systems offer a per-user pricing model. This makes budgeting easier with no surprise investments in new hardware and the number of users who can access the database can change as organizational needs change. Several nonprofits we work with find keeping their CRM in the cloud also increases productivity because it allows for easy remote access and collaboration.

3.     Enlist the help of a technology services firm to help migrate data to the cloud in order to save time and ensure it is set up correctly.

4.     Have both a remote archive and a local copy of your data – depending on your organization’s collaboration needs and the size of its files, there may be local versions that will not slow down the network.

5.     Make backups automatic and consider performing them several times a day, depending on your organization’s activity. Also, be sure to verify the reliability of the backup files on an ongoing basis.

6.     More cloud tools are being developed all the time, so we recommend you have a plan to regularly reevaluate cloud solutions. This will also give you the chance to rethink the data and tasks that your organization's IT infrastructure should be supporting and where it may fall short.

As your organization assesses its IT investments, consider whether there is a smooth way for you to capitalize on these opportunities to reduce the risk of data loss and possible disruption. Remember, the cloud isn't really about technology, it's about managing and maximizing your organizational capacity by ensuring productive employees who have access to data and applications how and when they need it. When you and your employees can spend less time managing IT and data, more time is devoted to fulfilling your mission.