May 24, 2012

Into the Cloud: Park Pride

  • 10 staff members
  • $2 million annual budget

Park Pride is a nonprofit that works to create and improve parks in the greater Atlanta metro area by engaging communities, advocating, and volunteering in parks and community gardens. The organization also runs a re-granting program that gives money to community groups that want to change something in their local parks. Marlina McKay joined the organization for part-time data entry work in 2005, and quickly became its accidental techie.

Now Im trying to transition into an intentional techie, she said.

Despite the organizations relationship with the city, its a separate entitythe city contracts Park Pride for volunteer projects and community gardens, and provides office space, networking and phones in lieu of money for some of the work. But Park Pride needs to be seen as a distinct nonprofit organization for outreach and fundraising.

Were not city employees, and thats important to us in branding, Marlina said. The city funding and in-kind support comes with a few logistical challenges. Because were dealing with the government network, we need to comply with what we can put on [their servers].

The city is conservative in terms of technology, which forces Park Pride to be somewhat conservative, as well. But the nonprofit is more adventurous about technology when it can be, she saidfor example, it recently turned to Rackspaces hosted email server to provide staff email, and implemented a Software-As-a-Service database.

The email solution decision came about by necessity, and circuitously, she said. Early on the, organization staff had city email addresses through the citys email server, and then separate email for Park Pride hosted by a consulting firm. The consulting firm got the Park Pride mail server blacklisted, but didnt tell anyonethe net result was that no email was coming in or going out. That led the org to foray into Google Apps for email early in that products lifetime, before a lot of people were using itand before there was sync tool, which lets it work with Microsofts Outlook. That was a failure, too.

It wasnt strategic, it was an emergency, she said. We needed to jump ship like the Titanic.

Admin work is minimal with the Rackspace solution, and Marlina spends less than half-an-hour per month on admin and support.

Ill email support when theres an issue, but Rackspace is usually pretty responsive, she said. Making people clean out their inboxes is the most time consuming part. She also sets up new email accounts, and sets them to sync for staff who want to continue using Outlook as a mail application. Those who dont want Outlook can use the native web interface, which is similarly folder-based.

Because we were using the citys Exchange server, that meant we actually had to be in the office to get email, she said. Now we have a mobile website (for email), and all the staff members who have a mobile phone can get email on their phone. That has kind of freed us up.

Her own situation has improved, as well. Im not maintaining servers, she said. Its never really crossed my mind since we started Cloud stuff. The last time we had a server, it was hosted by the city, and every time it went down, we had to find the guy to get it back upthere was no control there. We didnt want to entrust it to the lone city worker. Cloud was our only choice.

The email solution costs about $20 per month total for the entire organization. So far, there have been no problems of note, though there was a scare when it seemed a number of emails were lost. They came back, Marlina said.

Shes building a disaster recovery plan, and to that end, is working to try to capture all the data from all the Cloud providers the org uses and save them as backup. Its a redundancy plan, since Rackspace and Outlook both offer backup.

Any other issues with the solution are primarily user issues, she said.

Im working on the human side of it. People tend to use password as a password, and not keep it in a safe place, she said. The most crucial data I see is our financial and HR data. We dont really deal with a lot of confidential stuff. I advocate not putting data on personal technology, or in personal accounts. Theres a line to be drawn.

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 can read the article and the other case studies in this series later this month.

Chris Bernard