collaboration, presentations, technology

Strategies for Succeeding in the Cloud: What’s Stopping You?

7 Comments 28 October 2012

image courtesy of camdiluv, Creative Commons license

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!

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  • Debra, this is a great post and I think that when you look at successful businesses/organizations, they share those same five strategies you’ve outlined, regardless of whether it is for cloud computing, marketing, or staff training. I’ve gone a bit off topic though.

    My experience with cloud computing is limited, but I am starting to use Dropbox with a committee that I am a part of. I’ve had the account for some time, but I haven’t used it until now. And I love the collaborative aspect of it. I remember how excited I was when USBs replaced the hard disk, and I like to think that this is the next step in the file sharing evolution.

    As a Google user, I have enjoyed using Google Docs. What I like about it over other cloud-based options is that docs can be updated without having the clutter of several different versions. But, maybe that option is available with some other services as well.

    There are always security concerns surrounding cloud computing and I’d love to get your opinion about that, but having said that, I think that more organizations should still be using this technology. The workforce is becoming more mobile and cloud computing is a natural progression in the adoption process.



    Debra Askanase Reply:

     Shane, thanks for stopping by to comment. What I love about the Cloud is that there are a range of options, from the very tech-focused (read, less user-friendly for those less comfortable with cloud technology) to the simple user interface of Dropbox and Google Docs for collaboration. Dropbox and Google docs (Google Drive) are really great services for collaboration, as you note.

    As far as security in the Cloud goes, that’s a legitimate concern. Place your data behind a very strong and secure password, one that isn’t used anywhere else. Place it behind several layers of passwords, with limited or no sharing options. Check out the security certificates of your systems as well. In general, the larger and older services (Google, Dropbox, for example) have trusted security measures, but know that no systems is infallable. Change your password yearly!

    If you want to dig deeper and know more about security, Cloud Security Alliance ( is a nonprofit organization formed to promote the use of best practices for providing security assurance
    within cloud computing, and provide education on the uses of cloud
    computing to help secure all other forms of computing. TechSoup also has a good article (2010, but still relevant) on cloud security:

    That said, if your organization stores a lot of health data, personal client data, and sensitive data, it’s worth digging deeper to ensure that your cloud service has appropriate SSL (security) certificates, backups, and other security measures.


  • Hi Shane,

    Thanks for commenting, and glad you enjoyed the post!  Regarding security concerns, I have a couple of thoughts:
    – It’s often an illusion that the “server in the back room” is super secure.  Things like weak password policies, physical access (is the server room locked? only at night, or not at all  do you even *have* a server room? ;), viruses, and so on make a local server less secure than you might think.  When in doubt, I’m trusting that Google, Amazon,, etc all do a better job of this than I can (speaking as a former IT Director at a small nonprofit with limited resources).
    – If, for example, Virgin America trusts Google with their email, then what added security/reliability needs do I have over and above what an airline needs?  Not many, I suspect.  Certainly it’s wise to carefully read things like Service Level Agreements (SLAs), Security policies, and clearly understand the support options and security that the vendor provides, but if I see a large enterprise organization putting their faith in a cloud vendor, that’s a clear sign to me that this is a reliable path for my $1 million annual operating budget-sized (and teeny-tiny tech budget) organization.
    – As Debra mentioned, the Cloud Security Alliance has lots of resources available for you.

    Hope that helps, and thanks again for reading and commenting!



  • Shane Francescut

    Wow, Debra & Marc, you are both such great resources… thank you for your amazing insights.

    I personally don`t have many security concerns and I wonder if that has something to do with being (almost) a digital native and feeling pretty comfortable with the state of things on the internet. But, I`m sure it`s inevitable that I`ll run into apprehension at some point in the future if I bring up this topic to someone who might be less comfortable with virtual servers.

    As with anything, it`s about having the right facts on the subject and selling it appropriately. I`m all for this kind of stuff and I love it, I`m just not very experienced with it yet.

    Thanks again,



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Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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