Into the Cloud: IWRC

  • 2 Staff
  • Less than $200,000 budget

Founded in 1973, the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council provides professional support for wildlife rehabilitators, including continuing education, a peer-reviewed journal and an annual symposium. Though the organizations reach like its board members is global, most of the work is done by two staff members who work mostly from home with the support of a part-time employee and a dozen independent contractors.

Though one of those contractors used to handle basic IT functions more or less by default, the executive director, Kai Williams, has taken on that responsibility since she came on board in 2010.

I find a volunteer or hire someone to troubleshoot if it gets over my head, she said. The board president has a strong vision about where we should be, and I have conversations with her.

The IWRC approach to technology is split, Kai said. The IWRCs back office systems are definitely not cutting edge, but on the cusp.

We need that technology to function at our best, she said. With limited budget and limited staff, it really helps us grow, by leaps and bounds.

We need that technology to function at our best, she said. With limited budget and limited staff, it really helps us grow, by leaps and bounds.

But because the organizations audience is less-comfortable, in general, with technology, shes more conservative when it comes to member-facing technology. Kai relies on Cloud-based solutions for data backup, email and database, though adopting those solutions was a gradual process. When she joined the organization she immediately implemented a Cloud-based backup solution, and switched from the existing Cloud-based email service to a new provider. A year later, she moved the database to the Cloud.

Shes using Carbonite for backup, which she feels is a better solution than the CDs they were using in the pasta lesson the organization learned the hard way when the previous directors computer crashed before it had been backed up completely.

Kai moved the IWRCs FileMaker Pro database to the Cloud to improve access to itother users could access the database only when Kais computer was powered up and connected. Now, its accessible at any time and from anywhere, an inexpensive way to solve a key issue, she said.

We didnt want to maintain our own server, because theres not always someone in the officeif something happened, no one would be there, she said. Their server is hosted by GoDaddy, and costs around $30 a month. Staff log into FileMaker Pro from their computers, and Kai can access it from her iPad.

Though the organization already was using Cloud-based email, she switched to Google for Nonprofits, which supports staff needs as well as those of board and evaluation committees.

[Our committees] use it for email and to share documents back and forth, she said. Our course evaluation committee uses it for _ a lot of collaboration.

She chose the Google solution, in part, because she was personally comfortable with the applications it offeredshe knew how they worked and what they were capable of, though shes still learning the extent of those capabilities. I still feel like Im exploring it, she said. It was also quite easy to set up, and it was free.

Overall, the switch to Cloud-based solutions was easy for the organization, Kai said, though some committee-members found it challenged their comfort level a little bit. The board accepted without hesitation. An unexpected benefit was that it increased the boards comfort-level with technology in general because of the time savings board members have experienced.

Since implementation, Kai spends very little time maintaining the system beyond the training she gave to the hesitant committee members. Its just a miniscule amount of administration, which is just great, she said.

Its very fast to upload documents, with a fairly large upload ability, she said of Google Apps, but shes found a few problems with Google Docs ability to print polished, complex documents. If youre just using the bare minimum, just text, its great, but if youre working on a polished document, it wont show them the way theyre printed.

The system has helped unite the organizations virtual office. The email works great, and were probably not using it to its full advantage, she said. The apps package as a whole provides the organizations small staff with an ease of communication that mitigates the fact that theyre all working from different locations.

We use Google Chat all the time for discussing things, she said.

In addition, the when the IRWC hired an employee without a cell phone, Kai was able to create a Google Voice account for her and forward calls to the number using the Grasshopper call-forwarding service. Its a kind of silly system, but it works for us, she said.

While she was cautious about some aspects of the Cloudespecially securityshe hasnt experienced any problems. Ive been taking many precautions, she said. Standard good practices for being on line, backing things up, antivirus software, being careful about what were downloading and how were using the web.

For the most part Ive been very happy, Kai said of the IWRCs switch to Cloud-based solutions, but its important to go into it with some knowledge and to make sure the main person is comfortable with it before trying to roll it out to everyone.

Editor’s note: This case study is part of an NTEN research series on Nonprofit Infrastructure in the Cloud, which was conducted in May, 2012, and prepared by Idealware. You canread the overview article for this study, and find the other case studies in this seriesin our case-study section.

Chris Bernard