Sharing Back-Offices in the Cloud: The Case of 50CAN

  • 12 staff in New York headquarters
  • Additional staff in seven affiliated state organizations

With the main organization headquartered in New York City and state-level organizations in seven states and counting, 50CAN the 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now has a widely distributed workforce with a number of technology requirements. A staff of 12 in the main office supports services for each of the states, which maintain offices typically staffed by three people that work both from the office and from the road.

We would like to start different campaigns on the state level to create great public schools for all kids, said Ingrid Reynoso, 50CANs senior vice president of operations. Change needs to come from the states, because thats where the money comes from. We started in Rhode Island, then spread to Minnesota, Maryland and New York those four states are well-established. This year we started Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina, and we hope to grow at least three states each year.

The goal was to unite the organizations offices with centralized solutions to provide access and support, and to facilitate the work of staff members, and to allow for such rapid and geographically diverse growth, the solution needed to be scalable and accessible remotely.

50CAN began working with Sinu, a contract IT firm, to coordinate and provide Cloud solutions. Sinu provides similar services to a range of organizations, said founding partner David Owen.

It doesn’t make sense for small organizations like 50CAN to devote any more time or staff to managing infrastructure than they have to, he said. Its inefficient, its reactive, and frankly, its ineffective. Because they are growing fast, and have a distributed work force, they have, with Sinus help, embraced the Cloud.

Sinu provided the organization with centrally managed, Cloud-based solutions for monitoring and maintenance, security, including anti-virus, -spam and malware solutions and remote data backup. 50CAN was already well on their way to making those kinds of decisions, about moving to the Cloud, before we even encountered them, Owen said. A 50CAN four or five years ago would have really struggled to exist in the way they’ve chosen to exist light, flexible, nimble, and geographically disbursed.

We believe that the flexibility of this approach has served 50CAN very well in their pursuit of their ambitious goals, he said. Now they can have conversations about the strategic visions of the organization rather than talk for three hours about why this email wasn’t delivered.

Ingrid agreed, and said the Cloud solutions have been a good fit for both her organizations goals and its work culture. We don’t want to spend a lot of time and effort on technology, she said. Well spend money to make sure its up to date, perfect and that it works well with what we do, but we don’t want to devote all our time to it. These solutions allow us to work on other stuff that we need internally.

The Cloud works great for us. I like not having anything here, anything I physically have to worry about it works fine having it all hosted somewhere else. I trust that the security measures are all fine, and I like that they can fix things without having to actually come here, to the office.

Since the New York staff provides payroll support, legal work, research, and communications and operations support for the state offices, and handles financial tasks, such as paying bills and expenses, 50CAN recently implemented a new Cloud-based solution provided by Nexonia that enables staff to photograph receipts with smartphone cameras to create expense reports.. The customizable web interface also allows for online timesheets, vacation requests and similar payroll and personnel tasks.

What we really want to do is have no paper at all, Ingrid said. Another organization recommended Nexonia to us, and they’ve been great. They created a 50CAN-specific video for us to teach everyone how to access the site, and they’re very available for customer service and questions.

All told, Ingrid said, she’s pleased with outsourcing 50CANs IT and back-office technology to Sinu, and by extension, to the Cloud. I have no reservations about using Cloud solutions, she said. They really allow us to be flexible with our time.

Owen said Sinu works to provide platforms to its clients that offer strong foundations. Sinu was conceived as a managed solution provider, he said. Were going to provide you with a solution for your core IT, not bits and pieces but the whole thing. The Cloud gave us centrally managed tools that are scalable. The ability to tap into resources and tools and support that can be centrally managed across a widely diverse workplace is critically important, and thats what we do.

Editor’s note: This case study is part of an NTEN research series on Nonprofit Shared Back-Offices in the Cloud, which was conducted in June, 2012, and prepared by Idealware. You can read the overview article for this study here, and find the other case studies in this series in our case-study section.

Chris Bernard