Tag: Cloud

Nonprofit organizations are embracing cloud technologies to help them more powerfully serve their constituents and better connect their services and staff. But while the benefits are great, there are still some roadblocks.

NTEN and Microsoft surveyed more than 250 nonprofit professionals to produce the 2018 State of the Nonprofit Cloud report.

Some of the key findings include:

  • The benefits of hosted software and hardware include increased access, performance, features, and resources.
  • More than half of respondents said they had moved one or more services to the cloud in the past year.
  • Larger and more established organizations tend to use more cloud services and are more likely to be considering new services.
  • Smaller organizations put a slightly greater emphasis on the cost and staff time, compared with features.
  • Challenges to cloud service implementation include staff training, subscription costs, and calculating return on investment.

It is free to download for everyone. We hope you use this report to learn about how nonprofits are making decisions about cloud services and to benchmark your own organization.

Increasingly, nonprofit organizations are employing cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications such as G Suite, Office 365, and Salesforce to improve productivity, allow technical staff to focus on organizational improvements, and save on cost. According to NTEN’s State of the Nonprofit Cloud report, “Cloud services are a core part of nonprofit operations with 100% of survey respondents indicating they use at least two cloud services, up from 80% of survey participants in our last survey.”

SaaS has had a major impact on the nonprofit sector. For organizations of all sizes, SaaS provides a simple and effective way to scale growth, allowing for simple onboarding and minimal maintenance. The latter can be especially welcome by nonprofits where teams are lean and freeing up the time used to maintain productivity applications and databases has a lasting impact. But with all the benefits of SaaS, some important concerns around data protection often go overlooked.

Data loss is almost always caused by user error, accidental or malicious. A survey from Spanning found that accidental deletion of information is the leading cause of data loss from SaaS applications, responsible for 43 percent in the US and 41 percent in the UK, ahead of data loss caused by malicious insiders and hackers.

Common scenarios for cloud-based data loss

Compounding risk is the integration of key cloud applications such as Gmail or Office 365’s Exchange Online with applications like Salesforce (used for donor management or student lifecycle management), which can leave an organization further exposed.

For example, admin errors in importing or exporting data can overwrite critical data at compute speed—and when overwritten data syncs with other apps, errors spread exponentially. Nonprofit staff can also cause data loss by actions such as emptying a recycle bin full of “master” data, which cascade deletes “detail” data. Staff and volunteers with access to SaaS systems are also a vector for ransomware attacks, which can result financial hardship for non-profits forced to choose between paying a significant price to unlock their data or losing access to it. Finally, malicious actors (cybercriminals or disgruntled employees who have access to an organization’s email, collaboration apps, or CRM apps) can deliberately overwrite or delete vital data, leading to cascades of data loss as noted above.

Humans aren’t always to blame, however, and something as simple as a sync error where important data such as donor outreach records can be corrupted, can have a palpable impact on a nonprofit. For example, a bad sync between Gmail and Salesforce can corrupt contact activity records, leading to donors getting too many emails and feeling “spammed” and stopping their donation.

Nonprofit sysadmins and business analysts have an important role in managing their organizations’ data, and the time spent recovering from SaaS data loss is a drain on limited resources. As such, organizations who utilize SaaS applications should adhere to the three pillars of data protection to keep operations running smoothly and uphold mission-driven organizations.

Three pillars of data protection for nonprofits

Automation

Automating SaaS data backup and restoration greatly reduces the number of manual steps needed to protect data, which in turn eliminates the risks that human error and inconsistent execution can add. This approach also reduces audit and governance risk.

Security

Implementing multiple layers of security is vital to protecting nonprofit mission and operations. This not only helps to secure critical data, but also contributes to overall compliance adherence. For example, a SOC 2 report describes the controls that a SaaS provider has in place to deliver on security, availability (uptime), data integrity, confidentiality, and the privacy of personal data. By ensuring that the SaaS vendors you use are SOC 2 Type II compliant, nonprofits get a window into the security measures protecting their data.

Reliability

As indicated in customer reference calls and reviews, reliability goes beyond simple service uptime and accuracy—it helps ensure you’re selecting vendors you can trust. At the end of the day, this is one of the most important features that SaaS vendors can offer.

Integrating these three pillars into their policies and procedures has allowed organizations like the East Coast Migrant Head Start Project (ECMHSP) to scale up investments in cloud-based productivity applications, while meeting internal and regulatory requirements. Through its work with Spanning, ECMHSP has successfully met or exceeded recovery time objectives (RTO) in drills.

By taking an integrated approach to SaaS data threats and upholding all three pillars of SaaS data protection, nonprofits using a collaboration platform like G Suite or Office 365 along with a donor management or student lifecycle management application can maximize time and resources saved, safely and securely.

It’s time again to evaluate how nonprofits are using the cloud!

NTEN and Microsoft have created a survey to assess the extent of and use of cloud computing in the nonprofit sector. For the purposes of this survey, cloud computing refers to hosted software and/or technology infrastructure, which is shared by many users and accessed online or through a browser. We have conducted research about nonprofit cloud adoption previously, and if you’d like to review the findings from a few years ago, you can download the 2015 report.

The survey includes 28 questions, and it should take you approximately 10 to 14 minutes to complete.

All survey participants have the option to opt into a drawing to win either a scholarship to the 2019 Nonprofit Technology Conference or for an NTEN course of your choosing!

Help us with the important research that all of us benefit from in our planning and decision-making.

 

A version of this article was originally published on nptechforgood.com and is reprinted here with permission.

Over the last decade the discussion around nonprofit technology (#nptech) has primarily been focused on social media, mobile technology, and online fundraising. However, as the internet enters its next phase, nonprofits need to better understand some of the more complicated concepts that will shape the internet and its use in the decades to come.

Advancements in internet technology will change how we live, how we serve, how we fundraise, and how we interact with humans, the natural world, and machines.

1. Blockchain – #blockchainforgood

A blockchain is a decentralized, distributed, and public digital ledger that is used to record transactions across many computers so that the record cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks and the collusion of the network. – Wikipedia

NTEN: Restoring Trust in the Nonprofit Sector with Blockchain
Social Media Week: The Essential Guide to Blockchain for Brands
Bond: Top 11 Resources on Blockchain for Global Development

2. Cryptocurrency – #cryptoforgood

A cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency that uses cryptography for security. A cryptocurrency is difficult to counterfeit because of this security feature. A defining feature of a cryptocurrency, and arguably its most endearing allure, is its organic nature; it is not issued by any central authority, rendering it theoretically immune to government interference or manipulation. – Investopedia

As of 2/26/18: Number of Cryptocurrencies: 1,577 Total Market Cap: $450,941,873,379

Tech Impact: Bitcoin and Blockchain Provides Transparency for Donations
Beaconfire RED: Should Nonprofits Accept Bitcoin and Other Cyrptocurrencies?
Cryptocurrencies to Watch: Gift Coin, Mission Coin, NGO Coin, Wishcoin

3. Artificial Intelligence – #aiforgood

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science that emphasizes the creation of intelligent machines that work and react like humans. – Techopedia

SAS: Artificial Intelligence: What It Is and Why It Matters
Charity Digital News: Artificial Intelligence: The Future of the Charity Sector
Nonprofit Quarterly: Tech Giants Join with Nonprofits to Consider AI Practice
Bonus: 17NTC Keynote Camille Eddy on cultural bias in AI

4. Encryption – #encryptionforgood

Data encryption translates data into another form, or code, so that only people with access to a secret key (decryption key) or password can read it. – Digital Guardian

Upwork: Encryption Basics: How It Works & Why You Need It
Nonprofit Risk Management Center: Data Privacy and Cyber Liability
Public Interest Registry: What to Do in the Aftermath of a Data Breach

5. Internet of Things – #iotforgood

The Internet of things (IoT) is the network of physical devices, vehicles, home appliances and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and connectivity which enables these objects to connect and exchange data. – Wikipedia

LinkedIn Group: The Internet of Things for Nonprofit Organizations
Internet Society: The Internet of Things: An Overview
Nonprofit Tech for Good: 5 Ways the Internet of Things Could Transform Fundraising

6. Cloud Computing – #cloudforgood

Cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of software and hardware installed at your organization’s physical location. – PC Magazine

TechSoup Global: Global Survey Reveals Why NGOs Are Moving IT to the Cloud
Charity Digital News: [INFOGRAPHIC] Staying Safe in the Cloud
npEngage: Why is the Cloud Right for Your Nonprofit

(Summarized from a presentation for the 2014 TechNow Conference; original presentation by Krissy DeShetler, Family House and Frank Schlatterer, JenLor Integrations)

In 2013 Family House underwent a major overhaul of their IT infrastructure. In this article I’ll give a basic overview of the before and after, and the process that it took to get there.

About Family House

Family House, located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, provides housing for patients and caregivers who travel to Pittsburgh for medical care. At the time of this project Family House was operating 4 houses with a total of 160 guest rooms as well as an administrative office. Family House was serving 15,000 guests each year with an operating budget of $4.4 million and a staff of 60 (20 full-time and 40 part-time).

The challenge

Several elements of our IT infrastructure were beginning to crumble and needed some major attention in order to make them more efficient. We needed our technology to be a useful tool instead of a hindrance to our staff.

The major hurdles included:

  • End of life for two servers: two physical servers that had manufacturer warranties that would expire in May and September 2014.
  • Workstations out of warranty: 23 workstations, 8 of which had expired manufacturer warranties and another 8 would be expiring before September 2014.
  • Inconsistent software: 3 versions of Microsoft Office being used throughout the organization.
  • Time consuming backup system: A tape backup system that required a staff member to change the tape daily and take the tape home with them in case it was needed for disaster recovery, plus the backup did not cover the entire system.
  • Divided WiFi: 20 residential grade WiFi access points that were each independent with no central monitoring.
  • Unmanaged email: A majority of our part-time staff members were using personal email accounts for work related communication.
  • Our idea of “remote access” was to email files to ourselves or carry around flash drives so that we could work from home.
Our old network layout. Select to enlarge.

A brief note about the “situation” Family House found itself in: We did have an outside IT company that managed our system. A technician was onsite twice a month and would handle upgrades, troubleshooting, etc. This IT company did recommend needed upgrades for software and hardware, but they were not persistent enough (in my opinion). The proposals were often the first thing to get cut from upcoming budgets because “Everything is working; why should we spend money on it?” The workarounds, inconsistencies and lost time for staff because of inefficient systems didn’t speak loud enough when it came to the annual budget.

This is a very common position that nonprofits find themselves in. Many nonprofits operate like this until it is too late and then decisions are made in a panic instead of having time to process and make the best decision for the needs of the organization.

Finding a solution

With the list of challenges mentioned above, we set out with a small committee of staff and board members and presented a Request for Proposals (RFP) to three IT companies. Going into the RFP process, most of us expected that we would end up with three proposals that included some combination of onsite servers, Office 365, new workstations, etc. That was the case with two of the proposals, but the third proposal presented an option that we had not really considered: a cloud based, virtual server setup. After a long RFP process of meetings, walkthroughs, and reference checks, we ended up selecting JenLor Integrations and their proposal of a cloud-based infrastructure.

The details

Referring to the challenges listed earlier, here is what the cloud based solution provided:

  • Physical, on-site servers were replaced with rented server space at a data center. This eliminated several thousand dollars in upfront costs for purchasing hardware. Instead, we pay a monthly fee based on the amount of space that we have allocated in the data center. This provides flexibility—as our space needs change, we can add more space without the concern of running out of space in a physical server.
  • Traditional desktop computer workstations were replaced with thin clients. The thin clients are much less expensive and do not require a traditional operating system.
  • Using the resources of TechSoup, we upgraded to Office 2013. This transition was not nearly as stressful on our staff as learning Office 365 would have been.
  • The tape backup system was replaced with a monitored and managed cloud backup.
  • The WiFi system was upgraded to a managed Cisco Meraki system.
  • A portion of the cloud server was setup as a Microsoft Exchange server. By using TechSoup we were able to purchase enough licenses for all of our staff to have a Family House email account.
  • Access to the cloud server is through a remote desktop connection. That makes the user experience the same whether they are sitting in their office or in a coffee shop.
The new network layout. Select to enlarge.

The cost

In comparing the three RFPs, the cloud-based solution from JenLor was a cost savings of over $100,000 in the first year. The majority of the cost savings was related to the need for very little hardware. Our expenses for the initial setup and first year of support and maintenance were approximately $88,000.

In the process of deciding on a solution we were also extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to present our project to a local foundation. The foundation provided a grant that covered the setup and first year of support and maintenance.

Things to consider

If you are looking to make the transition to a cloud-based setup:

  • Internet is crucial. JenLor highly recommended that we invest in a redundant ISP. That was not something that we kept in the budget because we operate multiple locations. If our internet is out at one location, thanks to the ease of the remote connection, we can easily work from an alternate location. However, if your organization only has one location, a redundant ISP should be a big consideration.
  • Streaming video can be slow. When I am sitting in my office in Pittsburgh and open a web browser, I am connecting from Pittsburgh to the data center in Kansas City and then back to Pittsburgh. That is a long “distance” for data to travel and that is often most evident with streaming video.

Five months after we made the transition to the cloud we experienced a flood at our administrative office. A small hot water tank in the second-floor kitchen burst and leaked through to the first floor. The former IT closet was directly below the kitchen. If our server had been onsite it would have been destroyed. With the cloud system the only thing that needed to be replaced was our firewall. We were back up and running by noon on Monday (the flood occurred on Sunday). Also, the flood only affected the administrative office; our other locations were never affected.

It has been over four years since Family House took a leap into the cloud and virtual server setup and I can say without a doubt that we have a more efficient, user-friendly, cost-effective, and reliable IT infrastructure than we did when we started the process.

A few years ago, I wrote a case study on NTEN’s Organizational Document Management System. While some of that information is still valid, much of it has changed and evolved. I’d always meant to write a follow-up article to address how our system and practices have changed over the years, but somehow that task kept sliding down my priority list in favor of website overhauls, database upgrades, or learning how to still get enough sleep while being a dad.

Joshua Peskay from RoundTable Technology approached me in June to see if I’d consider co-authoring an update to this article with him. That was all the encouragement I needed, as it would give me a chance to review NTEN’s own system as well as to learn a thing or two from Joshua on what he’s seen work well.

Further, we decided to expand the focus this time beyond Google Drive and make a list of best practices applicable to any cloud-based document management system. While all the tools are different and have their own strengths and weaknesses, a lot of the overarching document management best practices are tool-agnostic and will apply across the board.

So, without further ado, here’s our updated list of best practices for document management in the cloud!

Folder Organization and Sharing

Create a set of top level folders where the majority of sharing settings can be managed. At NTEN, we organize these around department, but they could also be organized around project, fiscal year, or some other system that makes sense for your organization. Sharing settings should be clearly defined and communicated so all staff understand who will have access to each folder.

As a small organization, we at NTEN find it easiest to have all our top level folders shared with everyone. Then staff can also have their own individual “my stuff” type folder to keep files that don’t need to be shared or that need tighter or more specific sharing controls. For larger organizations, it may be better to primarily share across departments or project teams in order to avoid overwhelming staff with a ton of documents they don’t have any need for.

The goal is to find the right balance between ease of sharing and ease of access. Here are a few thoughts to consider:

  • If sharing settings are too limited, it can become tedious to make sure the right people have access to the right documents. And in cases when they don’t have proper access, you risk confusion, lost productivity, or the creation of duplicate files.
  • If sharing settings aren’t limited enough, you risk people not being able to find the relevant documents they need among an overwhelming mass of documents they have no use for.
  • A good archiving system is also essential to help manage this balance.

Archive System

It’s crucial to have a good archiving system in place to make sure your document management system stays healthy for years to come.

The majority of organizational files are probably used for a matter of days, weeks, or months, and then never looked at again. After a couple years of using your system and allowing older files to pile up, it will become overwhelmed with old and outdated files, making it difficult to track down the more recent and relevant ones you need. NTEN ran into this exact issue a couple years after launch, where our once beautiful document management system had turned into a churning mess of outdated files.

As part of NTEN’s (New) Archive System, we have an archive folder for each year and then created a separate admin account that has access to all the folders in our system. During the year, as documents or folders are no longer needed, staff move them into the current year’s archive folder. Once a year, we also do a “spring cleaning” to move files that haven’t been accessed or modified in over a year into the appropriate archive folder. Once an archive folder is a couple years old, it’s unshared with all staff, so those files no longer appear in search results (it will still be shared with the admin account, though, if we ever need to go back and find an old file).

Folder and File Naming Conventions

Define folder and file naming conventions up front and communicate them to all staff.

  • Ideas for what to include in a file name include:
    • Department or project name (or a shortened code)
    • Date of file if it’s associated with a specific date (e.g. meeting notes)
      • I prefer the YYMMDD format or some version of that so similarly named files sort by alpha nicely
    • Descriptive name so it’s clear what the document is without needing to open it

Keep the naming conventions as simple as you can so they’re easy for staff to use. Here is a sample file naming policy, which is a simpler version of RoundTable’s current policy.

Backup System and Disaster Recovery

Make sure your files are backed up and can be recovered in case of a disaster.

One often overlooked aspect of using a cloud-based document management system is understanding / auditing the backup system and disaster recovery options. All these systems are built with multiple redundancies that in most ways are far superior to anything an organization could manage itself. Don’t get too cozy, though, because some of these systems may have holes or pose different risks than traditional document management systems that could leave you hanging.

For example: What happens if an employee accidentally (or maliciously) deletes an entire department’s folder and then empties the trash? Do you have any way to get all those documents back? Have you checked? Different systems have different levels of control here, but it’s worth the time up front to think through potential scenarios and make sure you have a disaster recovery plan in place (either using the system’s built-in tools, or by using a third party backup system, like NTEN does).

RoundTable has written up a short primer that helps organizations understand backups, disaster recovery and business continuity, and how to think about them for their particular needs.

Ongoing Change Management

Cloud-based document management is very different from traditional file servers. Training is clearly important, but ongoing change management is equally, if not more important.

Traditional file servers have barely changed in the past 20 years. In 1996, you could open an explorer window, view a list of shared network drives (the F drive, the N drive, etc) and access your organizational files. This is still the primary manner by which most organizations handle document management in 2016. Cloud-based document management has changed more in the past five years than traditional file sharing did in twenty years. Staying up to date with all of the functionality and potential benefits is a Sisyphean task. Unfortunately, it’s also a critically important task.

Consider how your organization will support continuous learning and improvement of your cloud-based document management system to ensure that your staff are given the opportunity to not only access, but understand and optimize the tools that can help them thrive.

RoundTable has a weekly 30-minute all-staff virtual meeting. Five to ten minutes of this are dedicated to skills training, every week. Sometimes it’s as simple as sharing tips and tricks, but we commit 5-10 minutes per week for all staff to learn something about our systems.

We hope you’ve found these tips useful, and we’d love to hear any of your ideas or tips that we may have left out.

Photo credit: opensource.com

State of Nonprofit CloudWhen we previously conducted research about the use of cloud services in the nonprofit sector, it was 2011. In that original report, we noted that many nonprofit staff were using hosted services, such as email, without realizing that they were accessing the cloud. We also found that there was strong concern for security of cloud systems, such as databases, though those same organizations were using hosted services for accessing and sharing sensitive data.

At the end of 2015, we partnered with Microsoft Philanthropies to conduct another round of research to get a better sense of the cloud services being used by nonprofits; fears or struggles around using the cloud; and plans for potential expansion.

>> Download the report

We anticipated that some notable changes might have occurred in the years since the last report and certainly have proof of those changes in this new report. Some key findings include:

  • Cloud services are a core part of nonprofit operations, with 100% of survey respondents indicating they use at least two cloud services, up from 80% of survey participants in our last survey.
  • The newest addition to organizations’ cloud services ecosystems is document storage.
  • In comparing installed versus hosted services, respondents noted staff training as important but not likely to have a difference in their selection (contrast this to the results in NTEN’s annual Tech Staffing & Investment research, where respondents indicate that they have the tools they need but not the training to use those tools well).

>> Download the report

We hope you find this report valuable. If you have observations, feedback, ideas, or requests as far as how we can help you and your organization use technology, please let us know.

2015 Digital Adoption ReportDid you know that more than 60 million Americans do not have Internet access in their homes?

That statistic is alarming, and is precisely what drove NTEN and Mobile Citizen to launch the first Digital Adoption Report, which provides benchmarks and qualitative data about online technology and digital inclusion efforts among nonprofits and the communities that they serve.

What we learned: Nearly 60% of respondents indicate that constituents need Internet access to participate in their services. Not surprisingly, all respondents identify the Internet as a critical business tool to get the work done!

> Download the 2015 Digital Adoption Report!

Digital adoption, whether for organization or individuals, includes three requirements:

  1. Access to the Internet where and when we want or need to go online;
  2. Affordable equipment to use; and,
  3. Training, or digital literacy skills enabling us and our constituents to use the Internet to support our work and lives.

In this report, respondents note obstacles around access, training, and devices used by their staff and community members. Recognizing where barriers exist is critical for creating the most successful solutions.

We hope that after reading this report, you are ready to learn more about the impact of digital adoption decisions and strategies for your organization and for your community. This research will help provide an initial benchmark that we can all learn from and build on together.

2015 Digital Adoption ReportDid you know that more than 60 million Americans do not have Internet access in their homes?

That statistic is alarming, and is precisely what drove NTEN and Mobile Citizen to launch the first Digital Adoption Report, which provides benchmarks and qualitative data about online technology and digital inclusion efforts among nonprofits and the communities that they serve.

What we learned: Nearly 60% of respondents indicate that constituents need Internet access to participate in their services. Not surprisingly, all respondents identify the Internet as a critical business tool to get the work done!


> Sign in to download this report.

  1. Access to the Internet where and when we want or need to go online;
  2. Affordable equipment to use; and,
  3. Training or digital literacy skills enabling us and our constituents to use the Internet to support our work and lives.

In this report, respondents note obstacles around access, training, and devices used by their staff and community members. Recognizing where barriers exist is critical for creating the most successful solutions.

We hope that after reading this report, you are ready to learn more about the impact of digital adoption decisions and strategies for your organization and for your community. This research will help provide an initial benchmark that we can all learn from and build on together.

The vast majority of nonprofits employ cloud computing in some way, but they may not know or think about it. If you use Gmail, Google Docs, Microsoft Office Live Workspace, Salesforce, or Yahoo mail, you’re in the cloud. These companies give you access to their software apps over the Internet, which you access through your web browser.

The cloud delivers key advantages for nonprofits, who often possess limited funds, space, and IT staff.

CEO Chris Hanson of software provider thedatabank notes that the ability of nonprofits to store their donor data in the cloud puts them at an incredible advantage from a cost, flexibility, and security standpoint. Hosting a database offsite gives nonprofits adequate technology support without the time and money needed to buy servers and support a full-time IT employee.

Cloud solutions can also be deployed rapidly, and your staff and volunteers can access data in the cloud from practically any Internet connection via their login – a desirable feature for organizations with flexible work hours and locations for staff.

Still, security and compliance are critical issues; many nonprofits worry just how protected they are and how they can meet compliance regulations. It’s rare for a nonprofit to have a compliance manager. If your nonprofit is in a medical- or retail-related field and must conform to regulations, make sure your cloud service provider is compliant and certified where appropriate.

So, how can a nonprofit ensure that its vital data is secure from any modern-day hacker and that certification obligations are also met? Here are some “best practices” to help:

  1. Focus on the security basics: Because a nonprofit is likely to have countless individuals linked to its database – from employees and volunteers to donors and those it serves – it’s vital to do everything necessary to keep those who could phish, spam or hack your site at bay. Make sure you or your cloud provider are employing corrective patches, antivirus protection, backups, egress blocking, administrative passwords, and the like. These low-cost fixes remove the vast majority of attack routes. It pays to be extra-cautious when storing sensitive financial or personal information online about your supporters and clients. Further, remember that many security breaches can be sparked by human error.
  2. Know and handle your compliance realities: Be sure that everyone adheres to relevant rules and regulations that apply to your field or industry, and this includes your staff, volunteers and vendors – including your cloud provider. Compliance issues are becoming more complex for many nonprofits because their funders often require various compliance-related controls. This is critical because if you don’t meet compliance mandates, it could lead to denial of federal funds or grants. A cloud-based computing services provider can help assess and avoid issues that could snag compliance rules.
  3. Test annually: A controls-based annual review and penetration test will make sure your safety processes and practices stay consistent over time. Testing will also determine if vulnerabilities are present and what risks they may pose. Compliance requirements can drive the need for penetration tests, too. Know, however, that performing scans and penetration tests in the cloud differ from those run on a typical network or application. Communication and coordination with a cloud service provider will ensure a successful outcome.
  4. Use trusted providers: Your provider should be highly competent and service-oriented to ensure you encounter fewer problems. Make sure you have copies of and access to your data, especially if your services should go down. Also, make sure the provider ensures an acceptable level of uptime and responds rapidly when issues arise. Since cloud computing (like all technology) changes continually, be sure that your cloud provider has several thoroughly tested options for backing up and extracting your data in a standard, nonproprietary format. It’s also beneficial to choose a provider that isn’t likely to go out of business or change its service substantially. For all these reasons, as one cloud authority put it, think of the agreement with your cloud service provider as a prenuptial pact!

Look at how one nonprofit organization, Children’s Bureau of Southern California, benefits from the cloud and how the cloud has lessened its security and compliance concerns. Children’s Bureau, a leader in child abuse prevention and treatment, serves more than 28,000 children and parents annually.

To do that well, it developed the Family Assessment Form (FAF), a web-based software for assessing families, planning services, and evaluating family and program outcomes.   Children’s Bureau uses the FAF with its families and sells the software to other family support providers and government agencies. FAF uses a software distribution model in which applications are hosted by a service provider – usually in the cloud – and made available to customers.

The agency specifically chose a vendor that helps it meet data privacy and security requirements set forth by HIPAA federal regulatory requirements, which protect confidential client health information, as well as Canadian provincial regulations around outcomes reporting and data security.

Cloud computing almost certainly will play a bigger role in the life of virtually every nonprofit. By being proactive and thinking through security and compliance issues and relationships with vendors, you can resolve any cloud computing concerns you may have and keep your focus on your nonprofit’s core mission.