Mar 17 2022

Workloads Every Nonprofit Should Move to the Cloud

Whether the goal is to minimize maintenance or maximize capabilities, nonprofits have a lot to gain from embracing the cloud.

What makes nonprofits different are their missions — and generally, managing financial software or collaboration tools falls outside of them.

Still, with overhead still a concern for donors, it’s important to find ways to minimize the impact of non-core workloads.

Putting them in the cloud is an effective way to do this, whether through Software as a Service tools or by building a robust infrastructure. It can even open up new ways of doing things.

Allyson Fryhoff, managing director of nonprofit business at Amazon Web Services, says that nonprofit organizations have found ways to leverage technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and chatbots even without a deep knowledge of the underlying technology. This has opened up new opportunities to innovate.

But even more traditional use cases for technology, such as call centers, could gain capabilities from the cloud. Fryhoff points to the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which was able to build out a call center in one week ahead of a televised event, through which it was able to raise $1.3 million for its services.

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Leveraging the cloud means “they don’t need to guess about capacity any longer,” Fryhoff says. “This approach has allowed them to scale up to meet the needs of their users for events and scale back when those resources are not being used.”

Here are a few clear candidates for cloud migrations and some ideas on how to think about the rest.

Cloud-Based Collaboration Tools Present Challenges and Potential

One of the strongest opportunities for a cloud transition is collaboration, an area where the tools can take a variety of forms. Some notable examples include Microsoft 365, Google Workspace and Zoom.

One challenge that can emerge with this kind of move is support from organizational leadership. AWS’ Fryhoff notes that leaders can help to push forth the discussion on integration.

“They need to be setting clear direction and expectations with the rest of the organization to get everyone on the same page and working toward the same thing,” Fryhoff says. “It’s easy for others to do nothing or block things if the leadership team isn’t making the move a priority and building a culture for change.”

Strong leadership can help ensure that the infrastructure your organization builds wins out over shadow IT in the workplace.

How to Handle Data with Customer Relationship Management Software

Much of the data nonprofits rely on comes from their donors and constituents, and the ways that data is managed could also benefit from a cloud makeover.

In the past, such data might have been managed on-premises, but recent advances in software for donor and constituent management have made it a good candidate for the cloud. For one thing, notes Fryhoff, it could allow nonprofits to narrow their hardware investment focus.

“By using the cloud, nonprofits don’t have to make large upfront investments in hardware and spend time and effort managing that hardware,” Fryhoff says. “By migrating their on-premises data centers to the cloud, nonprofits can provision exactly the computing resources they need to power their organizations and keep focus on the mission.”

MORE FOR NONPROFITS: How the industry has emerged from two years of disruptions.

Unlocking the Value of Data with Cloud-Based Data Analytics

Another benefit of putting data into the cloud is access to stronger data-analytics offerings than might be available onsite. This can help introduce efficiencies in marketing and execution for nonprofits.

A number of solutions for cloud-based analytics, such as AWS’ QuickSight, Google Cloud Platform’s BigQuery and Microsoft Azure’s Databricks, can be used in member recruitment or the demographic targeting of donors, improving marketing.

“With the cloud, nonprofits can better visualize and present their data in meaningful ways and support their organization in making faster and more intentional data-driven decisions,” Fryhoff says.

There are also ways to drill down further into data lessons using machine learning and automation, which nonprofit researchers use heavily. “In our work with nonprofit research institutions, AWS is also seeing researchers worldwide use the cloud to accelerate time to breakthroughs,” Fryhoff says.

Every nonprofit has things it must deal with internally, for example, financial and accounting software, human resources information or tools to manage an organization’s intranet. These may not be core to the way the organization works but they are still necessary to manage. These are often perfect candidates for moving off a local server and into cloud infrastructure.

Allyson Fryhoff headshot
A lot of the biggest challenges for organizations to move to the cloud aren’t technical, they’re about people and culture.”

Allyson Fryhoff Managing Director of Nonprofit Business, Amazon Web Services

But even if an organization can’t find an opportunity to move every piece of its infrastructure to the cloud, there’s no reason to fret. It might actually create an opportunity to consider a more methodical approach to software management.

“Sometimes, we find that organizations can get paralyzed if they can’t figure out how to move every last workload. There is no need to boil the ocean,” Fryhoff says. 

She recommended doing a portfolio analysis of a nonprofit’s technology tools to assess the data being utilized, the use case, what can move now and what can wait.

“This helps nonprofits get the benefits of the cloud for many of their applications much more quickly, and it really helps inform how they move the rest,” she says.

READ MORE: Learn why it's important to include nonprofit leaders when discussing automation.

Bringing Everything Together in a Cloud Infrastructure

No matter what you eventually bring to the cloud, there are still security and compliance considerations at play in implementing cloud infrastructure at your nonprofit — especially given the rise of ransomware and the need for compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation.

A thoughtful approach to security, using approaches such as zero trust, can help minimize the potential impact from a security standpoint. But the most important part of making the cloud work for you is ultimately about the cultural fit.

“A lot of the biggest challenges for organizations to move to the cloud aren’t technical, they’re about people and culture,” Fryhoff says.

If your organization can get past those challenges, the final result could be a more efficient organization overall.


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