Cloud computing makes sense for plenty of organizations. Lower cost, less time investment, less space required, 24/7 maintenance and support: All of these build the case for cloud computing.
But for nonprofits, there’s a particular benefit to outsourcing infrastructure, whether through Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service or Software as a Service solutions. With fluctuating capacity thanks to shifting needs and come-and-go grant money, nonprofits need an infrastructure that can grow (and shrink) along with their needs. In the best-case scenario, nonprofits need a partner that can support them as they scale up and that can accommodate a dwindling staff and donor base.
Nonprofits are likely aware of the gap between their needs and their reality. Only 68 percent of nonprofits have a security plan in place, according to the 2023 Nonprofit Tech for Good survey.
Here’s why they might want to investigate cloud computing for their infrastructure needs and tips for getting started.
Nonprofits’ Sensitive Work Requires Secure, Stable Tech Infrastructure
Nonprofits work with sensitive data that needs special care, such as information on vulnerable people and private medical and personal information. But the type of data that is most enticing to cybercriminals is donor information.
Using a cloud-based infrastructure can help nonprofits properly handle that data and mitigate the risks of owning sensitive information. Encryption, multifactor authentication, identity and access management (IAM), firewalls: All of these can increase nonprofits’ confidence that the donors who make them tick won’t be exposed in a data breach.
Relying on the cloud also relieves nonprofits of the burden of upgrading their technology on their own. When frequently strapped nonprofits are left to their own devices to assess and upgrade their tech services, it can mean that IT staffers are left to handle the endeavor on an ad hoc basis, perhaps taking their attention away from mission-critical work.
DISCOVER: IT solutions and services for your nonprofit.
An outsourced, cloud-based infrastructure provider eliminates the need for managing data center hardware. Cloud systems are updated regularly, enabling real-time updates instead of the costly downtime and user confusion endemic to in-house updates.
That said, as tech nonprofit NTEN points out, going to the cloud isn’t entirely risk-free. Organizations must count on their providers, must continue to manage the data stored on cloud-based networks and must maintain correct security configurations. But the benefits of outsourcing IT infrastructure remain bountiful: In addition to being secure and stable, it can be more cost-effective, more flexible, more stable and more helpful for regulation compliance than in-house solutions.
EXPLORE: Learn how to streamline your nonprofit solutions with cloud-based data.
What Nonprofits Should Do First When Moving to the Cloud
Step No. 1 will put all the other steps into perspective: Find a partner that has experience working with nonprofits.
The actual services may be the same between a cloud provider that hasn’t worked with nonprofits and one that has; you may get the same level of security, similar user interfaces or the same IAM solution. But when you choose a provider that’s versed in the unique needs of nonprofits, you’re opening yourself up to a partnership, not a vendorship.
The right cloud provider will know what customization to offer nonprofits, be aware of the sensitivities involved with 501(c)(3) work and understand the role tech plays in operations. It will understand the nuances of working with both staff and board to gain stakeholder buy-in, which is critical.
Many individual firms also understand the importance of nonprofit support and adjust their offerings accordingly. Operations such as Microsoft's Azure cloud offer free training and discounts. Microsoft offers discounts on application suites and business intelligence tools; Google’s solutions include a no-cost Workplace tier. And Amazon Web Services also offers cloud services for nonprofits.
Regardless of the solution your nonprofit pursues, one guiding vision can help land you in the right place: a partnership that allows you to do the work your nonprofit exists to do in this world.