Oct 07 2020

How Managed Cloud Services Can Help Nonprofits

Nonprofits can expand their capabilities with cloud-based tools that can help improve weaker areas.

Nonprofits are often tasked with trying to do more with less. The greatest success stories often involve nonprofits that are the most resourceful.

One way that nonprofits have improved their overall lift is through the cloud, which has the potential to expand capabilities beyond what can be managed onsite.

While many strategies exist for bringing cloud services to nonprofits, managed services may appeal to smaller nonprofits in particular.

A recent report from the nonprofit technology community NTEN highlights many of the benefits and considerations nonprofits should keep in mind when acquiring cloud services for managing an organization. Many cloud-based tools — such as Software as a Service offerings like Microsoft 365 or Google’s G Suite — can simplify management through an always-accessible toolkit. When looking at these options, organizations must also consider the potential risks.

“As with all technology … cloud computing also has its detriments,” the report’s author, Afua Bruce, writes. “The same flexibility that makes cloud computing attractive to nonprofits also creates risk.”

Bruce, chief program officer for the data science nonprofit DataKind, explains that nonprofits can gain an advantage by using external cloud-based tools to help extend their reach. She cautions, however, that they might also be giving up some of their strengths if they’re not careful.

“I think that nonprofits should take a strong look at where their skill sets are and where their budget lies to help determine what they decide on to manage and house themselves and what they decide to access,” she says.

That said, there is a lot of value to be had for nonprofits that take the right approach to the cloud.

Considerations for Data Management in the Cloud

Cloud-based data management tools for analytics and data storage can work well for many nonprofits, helping them create opportunities to help expand donor bases, build business opportunities and execute adeptly on their organizational missions.

Bruce notes, though, that implementing data tools through a managed data service shouldn’t come at the cost of the communities or organizations they serve.

“If you can find satisfactory answers to these questions, and in many cases you can, then it’s going to make sense to move forward,” she says. “I think the big question there is how you balance the power of data with making sure you don’t disenfranchise your clients.”

The Case for Automating Nonprofit Tasks

Another area where managed cloud services can come into play is automation, which can simplify complex tasks, help improve consistency and minimize errors. Bruce says that if automation is implemented thoughtfully, it can build reach while maximizing time that can be used for other things.

“You know, there are a lot of opportunities to partner with organizations that specialize in this type of work,” Bruce says. “If you can find organizations that really know how to support nonprofits and how to do it in ethical ways, I think it’s definitely worth consideration for nonprofits.”

MORE FROM BIZTECH: How nonprofits can shift their strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cloud also allows nonprofits to experiment with different options as needed. The NTEN report notes that if a nonprofit finds that a tool isn’t meeting its needs, leaders can always make the switch to something else.

Could Security as a Service Help Secure Nonprofits?

Security is nonnegotiable for nonprofits, both in terms of donor data and internal files. Fortunately, cloud security options can help prevent data loss, limit access to data, offer end-to-end encryption and fortify the walls between your organization’s devices and the outside world.

Not every nonprofit will feel comfortable with putting secure data on the cloud, so Bruce notes in the NTEN report that hybrid options are worth considering as well. In hybrid environments, collaborative tools are kept remotely but secure data is managed onsite. Bruce emphasizes that each organization will have to assess what option suits it best.

“Nonprofits are often resource constrained,” she notes, “so it’s a matter of where we actually want to spend these resources.”

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