The Increasing Need for Cloud-Based Services across the Nonprofit Space
Growing Trends in Nonprofit Technology – The Bigger Picture
A primary driving force for nonprofit organizations of all sizes, types, and styles, is to successfully and actively serve their various communities of need on an ongoing basis. As a result, scalable technology solutions that enable maximum productivity and efficiency between far-flung or remote workforces at cost-effective rates have become increasingly critical engines to growth across the nonprofit space.
These tools allow for easy ramp-up or scaling-down depending on specific fundraising goals and seasonality, allowing organizations to focus maximum investment in key communities of need, as opposed to in their own infrastructures, allowing them to advance their missions as efficiently as possible.
Nonprofit organizations typically rely on private funding from outside sources to support the infrastructures needed to run their day-to-day operations. On-the-go features and robust capabilities have been in ever-increasing demand across the nonprofit space as a result of the large amount of projects often occurring simultaneously and the need for close, consistent, and reliable communication has become paramount in the continuing effort by each organization to carry out its mission.
The advent of Cloud Computing, and the various services and solutions it enables, such as Hosted Unified Communications, Virtualization, and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) capabilities across popular desktop collaboration, communication and data management tools, such as Microsoft SharePoint, Exchange, and Lync have become crucial solutions that are enabling nonprofit growth, and expansion into key communities of need. Cloud-based solutions are able to effectively address the full range of the majority of common challenges experienced by nonprofit organizations, including:
- Capital investment;
- Communications and effective usage of staff and volunteer personnel;
- Efficient collaboration among variable and occasionally remote or far-flung workforces; and
- Seasonal or cyclical funding schedules that often vary from quarter-to-quarter or year-to-year.
As a result, cloud-based services are uniquely positioned to deliver maximum value, and benefits to nonprofit organizations, as well as the tools and infrastructure required, at efficient and cost-effective rates, to carry out and advance their missions as their organizations grow and evolve over time.
The Essentials of Cloud-Based Services and Solutions
How Does ‘The Cloud’ Deliver Specific Value to Nonprofit Organizations?
Cloud Computing is centered on the concept of allowing organizations to eliminate premise-based architecture by downloading and storing all of their operational applications to secure, geographically-redundant data centers. While still retaining full control over this data and its usage, organizations are able to dispense with the large overhead costs associated with maintaining and securing technological infrastructure and expand the accessibility and utility of their data and networks to grow productivity among remote staff and across the ever-increasing mobile landscape.
For large numbers of nonprofit organizations, the cloud has become critically important as a driver of growth and expansion in its ability to offer significant cost savings on technological investment and maintenance, as well as the tremendous flexibility it offers for ramping-up or scaling-down functionality and tools to fit a particular organization’s growth trajectory and fundraising cycle. Organizations are able to on-board top talent from any location in a seamless manner, with no limits or access constraints. Additionally, the migration to cloud-based solutions helps to maximize productivity from staff and volunteer groups wherever they are, anytime, without necessitating a centralized ‘headquarter’ location.
Key Challenges Facing Nonprofit Organizations and the Solutions Cloud-Based Services Deliver
Regardless of specific mission focus or mission, the majority nonprofit organizations share several common challenges when approaching the technological means to manage their workflow and staff, conduct work in their communities of need, and work toward the achievement of their missions and organizational goals.
Some of these common challenges include:
- Secure access to enable remote and/or far-flung staff to achieve maximum productivity whether they are in the office or on-the-go;
- Maximum collaboration to achieve common goals across an organization and/or community of need; and
- Scalable solutions that allow for ramping-up or scaling-down based around each organization’s seasonal activity cycles, fundraising schedules, and changing volume of work.
Cloud-based solutions have proven to be invaluable to nonprofit organizations, to counteract these common challenges while helping to propel them toward the achievement of greater milestones on its continued path to success.
Some particular core services and solutions that deliver particular value and benefits to associations and nonprofit organizations include:
- Unified Communications through Microsoft products, including Hosted SharePoint, Exchange, and Lync;
- Virtualization; and
- Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).
Unified Communications solutions, using desktop tools such as Hosted SharePoint, Exchange, and Lync provide additional levels of collaboration across an organization’s workforce, to enable greater efficiency, productivity and strategic management through data and document sharing, secure access, and robust services with minimal capital expense.
- SharePoint delivers a range of robust features and services, such as Language Integrated Query (LNQ) and the Client Object Model, with flexible deployment options and a scalable infrastructure to match a specific organization’s needs and growth trajectory.
- Exchange, the industry’s leading and most widely used email platform, also achieves these goals smoothly and at a cost savings, with infrastructure development, licensing agreements, and maintenance schedules managed by the vendor. Additionally, Exchange platforms may be deployed over redundant hosting infrastructure with no points of failure, to ensure overall network security, access, and uptime for optimal utility and productivity. Workforce teams may also enhance their collaborative efforts through synced calendars, email accounts, and data sharing over web, PC, and phone.
- Lync helps organizations to maximize their ROI through enhanced productivity and connectivity, with reduced operating costs related to travel, training, and outsourced conference services.
Virtualization solutions deliver fully-secured solutions to provide maximum service and flexible access regardless of geographic location along with reduced IT operating costs. This allows associations and nonprofit organizations to keep their focus on staff productivity, strategic goals, and directing their financial investments toward their communities of need as opposed to toward the costly maintenance of their own infrastructures.
VDI delivers a centralized, secure, and cost-effective data storage solution for organizations that provides the robust, flexible access for maximum real-time collaboration and productivity from staff in remote or far-flung locations. The vendor is responsible for all upgrades and system maintenance activities, which offers the organization peace of mind and continued cost savings.
(SIDEBAR) – Key Applications of Cloud-Based Services for the Nonprofit Market Space – A Case Study Highlighting the Value of Cloud-Based Services to Enhance Collaboration and Mission Achievement
An example of the measureable value that cloud-based services deliver to nonprofit organizations, particularly to enhance team and staff collaboration to drive the achievement of the organizations’ key goals and missions can be seen in a recent project iCore Networks conducted with a leading, national nonprofit organization.
Formerly, this organization had a hosted Lync PBX system in place which was resulting in significant service-related issues that were negatively impacting the organizations’ work and collaboration efforts over time.
Communication issues, coupled with a robust expansion plan and the need to have internal phone management capabilities by their IT department soon drove the organization to search for a more robust, reliable, and cost-effective solution to help them continue to advance their mission and achieve their goals.
Following a comprehensive technology assessment to efficiently resolve these issues and get their productivity and collaboration back on track, several key objectives were recommended and implemented, including:
- Implementation of a fully virtualized file server, domain controller and email server;
- Delivery of a full and seamlessly integrated Lync environment with their existing data network;
- Implementation of new broadband connectivity in three locations, including point-to-point circuits;
- Accurate migration of over 180 contacts from the previous service provider; and
- A smooth and rapid installation process, along with on-site support and training for their users, as well as access to accomplished expertise on-demand for troubleshooting and support.
As a result of these efforts, the organization now experiences reliable Lync communications with their employees and partners as their voice platform. Additionally, the organization is able to achieve its aggressive growth and expansion goals through enhanced, upgraded collaboration tools available to them, including instant messaging, presence, video, whiteboard, and screen-sharing.
Cloud Computing as an Enabler of Capital Conservation and Volunteer Engagement
As nonprofit organizations continue to be chiefly characterized by their mission-driven focus and concerted efforts to bring positive change and impact to the communities they serve, often the largest costs these organizations incur are human, in employees, volunteers, and infrastructures (i.e. investments in physical buildings, technological solutions, etc.). The success of nonprofit organizations is thus largely determined by how effectively each engages its human capital and harnesses their power to affect the organization’s mission and goals while reducing overall capital investment in systems that may detract from serving key communities of need.
Additionally, as many of these types of organizations are comprised of ‘episodic’ volunteers, where the overall size of the volunteer workforce may grow or decrease substantially due to season or cycle, cloud-based services enable efficient, cost-effective communication tools that enhance productivity without placing a large financial strain on the organization’s resources.
Delivering Nonprofit Success and Expansion to Communities of Need
At the center of any nonprofit’s success, regardless of location, mission, or composition, is its people and the funding that provides the engine for its work to progress forward. The majority of fundraising efforts are conducted at specific times or ‘seasons’ throughout the year, often necessitating spurts of activity and influxes of staff to manage and facilitate the outreach and follow-up activities required to achieve the organization’s goals. This basic need to provide rapid response in times of focused activity is significantly aided by the wide array of available cloud-based services, particularly in their ability to expand or contract in scale depending on the organization’s precise needs.
At the core of the nonprofit market space is the desire to serve, achieve, and give back to target, identified communities of need. Whether they be in the local area or across the globe, it is essential for nonprofits to maximize their capital investments and operating costs while maximizing the productivity of their staff and volunteer workforces in order to deliver maximum impact and value to the areas and communities they serve.
Cloud-based services are leading the way toward the next generation of nonprofit organizations as a result of their ability to provide scalable, flexible, cost-effective, and secure tools for interest groups to achieve and advance their missions from anywhere in the globe, anytime, all while aligning with that specific organization’s growth path, fundraising cycle, and unique timetable.
Stephen G. Canton is chief executive officer and chairman of D.C.-based iCore Networks, the leading provider of Hosted Unified Communications & Cloud Applications Services.
This article was submitted by a guest blogger from iCore Networks. Visit their website.