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CloudMany nonprofits have an information technology infrastructure that has developed over time. There's a mail server and a server — maybe more than one — for sharing files. Over time, you've updated the software and replaced the hardware, but it's still basically the same thing it was 10 or more years ago. Meantime, a good deal of your work takes place outside the office. You're expected to read email 23 hours a day. Many of your staff work from home, either all the time or from time-to-time.  You need to answer the phone whether you're in the office or not. Making that work with your 10+ year old technology architecture is difficult. How is the cloud the answer to this problem?  Let's step back and do a little definition.  "Cloud" is a word to describe things delivered as a service. Email is a service. File storage is a service. File sharing is a service. Collaboration is a service. Telephony is a service. The key word here is "delivered." The services are delivered to you wherever you are on whatever device you want to use. Service providers don't care if you're using a Mac, a PC, an Android phone, an iPhone, or a tablet. Their business is to deliver the service to you, at your convenience. The Google Cloud is a basket of services. Among the services are mail, file storage, and collaborative or traditional file sharing. Google also has personal and shared calendars, personal and shared contacts, and dozens of other services. Google delivers them to you via your web browser (Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Thunderbird, Safari, etc.) or native apps on your smartphone or tablet. Google mail, contacts and calendars also work with most desktop email programs like Outlook, mail.app, and Thunderbird.  Google Voice is Google's telephony service. You can get a free Google Voice number and have it ring multiple phones.  Voice messages are automatically transcribed and emailed to you as text, plus you can download the message as an mp3 file. Google Hangouts, part of Google+, let meet with your remote staff "face to face" via video conferencing.

Welcome to my first blog entry for Lumity.  I am the Director of Technology Services here and I will be writing about technology problems faced by non-profits, focusing in particular on the medium and small non-profit organizations. Today I’m focusing on the smaller non-profits.  Yes, those of you who keep your membership list on file cards or on an Excel spreadsheet.  My advice to you: upgrade and get with the program (pun intended). In the last several years, two trends have made technology so much easier for non-profits:
  • A move to the cloud.  Instead of finding or buying hardware and software, the cloud gives us both in one easy-to-use package.  You probably already use the cloud for email, right?  Well, just about anything else you need is out there as well.
  • Free to non-profits.  That cloud-based email you’re using is free, right?  Yahoo and Google aren’t sending you a monthly bill for your email.  Well, free email is just the start, particularly if you’re a non-profit organization.
Here are some examples of free, cloud-based software that you can start using tonight: File sharing Do you use your email to distribute files, for example, to your Board of Directors?  Email distribution can be effective, but you start running into problems if the files are too large or if you have to update a file after you sent it or if the receiving party’s email system blocks your email (etc).  And the larger the email list, the more headaches you have keeping it all together. One free cloud-based solution is Dropbox.  Dropbox is a secure common set of cloud-based folders that can be accessed by any authorized user from anywhere at all.  You just save your files to the Dropbox folder instead of a My Documents folder and your Board (or committee or whomever you want) can pull them down at their leisure.  Moreover, being in the cloud, the contents of your Dropbox are automatically and instantly backed up, so you’ll never lose a Dropbox-stored file to a hard drive crash. Like many firms, Dropbox offers additional features (e.g. more storage) for a fee, but the basic service is free.