May 8, 2014

How Nonprofits Can Get Started with Cloud-Based Tools

Are you intimidated by the cloud? You shouldn’t be. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of tools that use cloud computing to make your job easier and help your work reach more people.

In the last decade, many organizations — including nonprofit groups — have been switching to cloud-based tools like Gmail (cloud-based email) and Dropbox (cloud-based storage). These new tools are so easy to use that people don’t even know they’re part of the cloud. Marnie Webb of TechSoup Global writes, “People often don’t know whether or not the technology they are using is cloud computing. It’s only when we asked respondents about specific technologies that we discovered that they were, in fact, using cloud computing.”

Whatever You Need, There’s a Tool Out There That Can Help

Not too long ago, creating a fully-featured website with online applications, event management, and petitions could be prohibitively expensive. Today, it’s as easy as finding the right tools for the job.

For example, if your organization manages hundreds of applications, there’s a better way than using PDFs, paper, and fax machines. By providing an online application, your staff can spend less time collecting, securely storing, and evaluating applications. It’s very easy to get started with a number of tools, regardless of your technical expertise.

Google Forms is a free app that allows nonprofits to create unlimited forms. The answers appear in a Google Spreadsheet that can be shared and collaboratively edited. For more complex form needs, Wufoo can manage advanced fields, uploads, and even online payment within the form. Best of all, there is basically no setup time. With a free Wufoo account, you can set up three forms with your organization’s branding. Wufoo also has a built-in tool to allow members of your organization comment on applications to make evaluating candidates easier.

Wufoo

Creating forms is simple with Wufoo.

That’s just one tool for one task. There are dozens of tools for all nonprofit roles.

For the event planner: Are you running an event? Rather than mailing tickets, you can sell tickets and create check-in lists on Eventbrite or its fair-trade alternative, Brown Paper Tickets. Online platforms can make it easier for new people to find and register for your event with less staff time.

For the project manager: There are dozens of project management tools available to make collaboration easier, from Asana, a slick to-do manager for teams, to Trello, a simple board for pipelines. Many of these tools integrate with cloud storage tools like Box or Google Docs, and can be a great way to keep your team on the same page.

For the campaign organizer: For nonprofits that focus on civic action, most of the tools above are useful but there are more powerful tools out there. Tools like NationBuilderBlue State Digital, and Salsa can host petitions, call alerts, and letters to members of Congress.

Ensuring Your Chosen Tools Work for Your Organization

Although it’s easy to get started using these tools, be sure your organization is on the same page and avoid using multiple tools for the same task. For example, Dropbox and Box.com are both great cloud storage solutions to store files, but choose one to avoid losing documents in multiple accounts.

With all the new tools released each year, it can be hard and time-consuming to keep up. Ask your colleagues or other people in the nonprofit community about suggested tools. No matter which tool you choose, avoid tools that lock in important data like client information. It should be easy to switch to another tool if necessary.

Do you use cloud-based tools in your work? Share them in the comments below!

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Kimberly Muñoz
Kimberly Muñoz is a digital strategist at ShareProgress where she helps nonprofits reach a larger audience through social media A/B testing. She also worked on digital strategy for Rebuild the Dream and Dr. Raul Ruiz for Congress.
Tags: Cloud