Last week, Marc Baizman and I offered a workshop at the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network’s annual conference this week called “Streamlining Nonprofit Organizations: It’s All About the Cloud.” Cloud computing allows you to access software from anywhere via the Internet, instead of your hard drive or local computer network (definition courtesy of TechSoup). Our presentation focuses on cloud adoption barriers, strategies for succeeding in the cloud, two nonprofit case studies, and a survey of cloud tools. In particular, we spent a lot of time talking about the five critical elements for success in the cloud and the nonprofit case studies. As my colleague Marc Baizman notes, “Selecting the technology tools should always come *after* you’ve done the prep work of getting organizational buy-in, management support, and a clear strategy for how to use them. Only then will you be able to roll these out to your organization. If you don’t do the up-front work, get ready to spend a lot of time and effort setting something up that you will be the only one using.”
In both nonprofit case studies about cloud adoption, the critical elements to success were internal collaboration and management support.
According to TechSoup’s 2012 Global Cloud Computing report, citing survey data from 10,800 nonprofits and 88 countries, over 90% of the organizations surveyed are using cloud technology. The cloud-based services cited most frequently by respondents were email, social networking/Web 2.0, file storage/sharing, web conferencing, and office productivity. However, using cloud-based services is different from internalizing and optimizing them.
How many organizations have paid for a service, while only one staff person uses it, or no one does? Critical to internal optimization and success using the cloud are collaborative mindset and management support. Abandonment and disuse rates for cloud-based services will be high where the internal culture does not embrace trust, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing. I’ve written about the importance of connected culture for social media to really succeed, and the same connected and collaborative mindset is needed for an organization to really embrace cloud technology. These are not the only key factors to success in the cloud, however, which is why our presentation includes four other elements.
Five critical factors for succeeding in the cloud:
Strategy: Define what problems the cloud-based services should solve, make a requirements list, have a tech plan in place, and understand what cloud services your stakeholders will expect you to use based on industry standards.
Staffing: Ensure that responsibility for these services is in someone’s job description – or else no one is responsible for its success. There’s a great chart in the TechSoup report that shows the number of staff who are using cloud-based services at organizations. (It is on slide 12 of the presentation.) The same is true for social media success: ideally, it is not your part-time volunteer, youngest member of your staff, or temporary staff person who is responsible for technology…or social media…at the organization.
Budgeting: While many cloud-based services are free, free services may not offer robust solutions to meet your needs. Create a tech plan budget to help you figure out where to start (including budgeting for tech planning). Marc offers a great piece of advice in terms of contracts: don’t get locked into a long-term contract! Sign a monthly contract if possible, since both nonprofit needs and software change rapidly.
Support: Think about what support the cloud-based service offers, and then think about your support needs for that service. Is it critical that your donor management service be up 24/7? If so, that’s a consideration. Take your needs into account when entering into both a service contract and pricing out services. Some services charge for each support call, others offer pricing for different types of support, and some offer little to no support at all.
Culture: The organizations that succeed in the cloud have a few cultural features in comment. They are comfortable with some type of experimentation, have executive support for the service, are collaborative in nature, and are not afraid of technology. Additionally, knowledge is shared about why the services are in place, and how to best use them across the organization.
In the presentation, Marc and I also offer a list of cloud tools from a number of categories, including social media measurement, internal communications, content curation, project management, file storage, donor management, and four additional categories. Check out the presentation for the list and some screen shots.
Success comes down to strategy: if you are prepared to succeed, you will.
In addition, on slide 55, you’ll find a page of hyperlinked resources, including the TechSoup Global Cloud Survey 2012, NTEN’s State of the Nonprofit Cloud 2012, Idealware’s Field Guide to Software, and TechSoup’s sample budget program. If there are other great resources you know of, please share them in the comments below.
p.s. if you like what’s here, I also recommend following Marc on Twitter as well!