Classic IT mistakes of Non-Profit Organisations
Everyone makes mistakes, but for a non-profit organsation, that can divert funds or donations away from what they were intended for, and that’s something everyone wants to avoid.
Not-for-profits (NFP) and charities or charitable organisations have a yoyo position when it comes to IT and IT systems. On one hand, they get awesome discounts from Microsoft and other vendors. On the other hand, they often cut costs on implementing or maintaining IT systems and it can all end so badly – and expensively. We aim to show some of those mistakes in this blog post in the hope that everyone learns something.
In no particular order here are those mistakes as we seem them, and some ideas, direction or solutions.
This blog post is an extension of a previous one on Keeping IT Simple.
SOFTWARE/HARDWARE AT HUGE DISCOUNTS
While some NFPs know there are huge discounts available to them, many either do not take advantage of the discounts, or simply do not utilise them enough. Sometimes – and happily, rarely – the third party that is supporting the IT systems of a NFP will not be aware of the discounts that they should receive, or simply can’t be bothered finding out. Easier to just go with what they normally offer and bill the NFP as a normal commercial client. As we say this is a rare occurrence, but a sad one when we see it. We understand that NFPs need every dollar to deliver the service they need, to or the vision they have.
There is one company all NFPs should be aware of: Tech Soup. TechSoup itself is a not for profit, and organisation manages, organises and sells heavily discounted products for not-for profits and charities. They have over 2,000 products and services for NFP and also carry out training sessions. They also sell discounted new hardware (computers).
How much of a discount through TechSoup? Techsoup don’t supply an actual figure, but it’s huge. When money is tight, there’s a lot of cash to be saved using their services.
The best thing you could do right now is to get a report on all the software your staff are using, and make sure you are receiving the discounts that you are eligible for. A common one here is Adobe Creative Cloud. It’s an expensive commercial product but yet another one discounted through TechSoup.
While TechSoup can sell you (for example) Microsoft Office licenses for using the Office suite like Word, Outlook and Excel, it isn’t Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365). If you want to take advantage of Microsoft 365 to host your email, you can also submit to Microsoft for NFP/Charitable status so you can get Microsoft 365 licensing at a massive discount.
And this isn’t just far cheaper licenses for Office and email hosting; all the Microsoft 365 licenses are heavily discounted for qualifying NFPs or charities. For example, a common license is a Microsoft 365 Business Premium license. This gives you email and also access to the latest version of Office at all times. The retail cost on this license is $31.90 per month, per user. The NFP price for this license is $6.80, a discount of 78%.
So you can easily see these discounts are a no-brainer. Please use them as fully as you can. Check with your IT service provider or your own IT team to make sure you are receiving all the discounts that you should be.
You can check if your orgsanisation qualifies for Microsoft non-profit pricing by checking here.
‘FREE’ CLOUD SERVICES
A qualifying NFP or charity can get a yearly US$3,500 credit for use in Azure in any way they see fit. As an NFP, would you like around NZ$5,000 a year in free cloud computing? Who wouldn’t. Azure, in case you aren’t aware, is Microsoft’s cloud service where you can have servers, storage or services. There are some caveats around this free credit and you have to reapply every year to keep qualifying, but still – this is awesome and full credit to Microsoft for offering it.
As a non-profit, there’s also a long list of Azure services which are free to you.
If you are already using Azure, please check with your IT team or IT service provider that you are using these credits. If you aren’t using Azure, here’s a chance to dip your toes in the water of a cloud services, for no license or usage cost.
USING FREE SOFTWARE
This is a common habit of NFPs. They have a need for a certain tech tool – let’s use video editing software as an example. So to save money, they spend hours/days looking for free software to do this. The time wasted in trying different products can add up to thousands of dollars, and more often than not that product is not going to do what they want anyway.
It’s false economy, end of story. A more economic way is to use TechSoup’s knowledge to see if they sell (remember, it’s at a huge discount) software that would do what you want out of the box. I’ll bet you a coffee that they do.
NOT DEPRECIATING HARDWARE
Another very common mistake. A NFP has a big splurge and buys most staff new computers, and everyone seems happy. But that’s it – five years later, those staff still have the same laptops, and they’re so slow that now staff are unhappy, morale is low and no one is productive due to the age of their computers.
If only there were funds put aside to replace these computers, but there isn’t, and so the CE has to go to the board with a hand out, asking for tens of thousands of dollars to do another buying splurge.
Depreciation is there for a reason. Get your accountant/accounts department to start depreciating all IT hardware and actually put those depreciated funds aside in a separate account, to be drawn on as needed. It’s good business sense and takes a lot of the pain out of buying new IT hardware.
The same can be said for servers. They sit there chugging away, forgotten in some dusty room. Then one of them dies from old age, and it’s time to spend $30,000 on a new one. There’s a couple of issues here – servers should be replaced every 3 years in a commercial environment, and around 5 years for NFPs. That 5 years is simply based on money, but they shouldn’t be left for so long without replacement that they die a natural death. No one wins from that, and especially not staff who are reliant on getting to their files on that dead server.
Move it to the cloud
The other thing is that NFPs should be moving away from is having their own servers onsite. With so many applications now based in the cloud, using that $5,000 credit in Azure means you can start moving services that are currently running on onsite servers, into the cloud. Moving as much as you can to the cloud means that you can focus on your core business, rather than using money on maintaining servers. Read out blog post for more info, or get in touch.
USING THE WRONG PEOPLE TO DO AN IT JOB
Let’s say you need a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to manage your contacts, your donors, your members – whoever it is you deal with.
Your needs have gone beyond using a spreadsheet to manage all the contacts, and it’s certainly too unwieldly to manage donations or subscriptions.
So the CE makes a decision to implement a CRM. In an honest attempt to save money, someone puts their hand up and says they’ll have a go. They might have some sort of database skills which can help. This person, with great intentions, starts looking at products but they seem too expensive. So they design their own CRM, perhaps using Microsoft Access. Sound familiar?
This sort of works, and things can get customised as needs change. However, this person unknowingly has the NFP or charity held to ransom. Let’s say they leave for another job or leave to go to live somewhere else. The NFP now has a product they know little about and cannot manage. Since it’s a bespoke system, no one else can simply come in and take over maintaining it.
Feel free to read our blog post on Keeping IT Simple, but the key here is to buy off the shelf whenever you can and customise as little as possible. Too many customisations can lead to an inability to update your CRM/whatever system it is.
BACKUPS ARE FORGOTTEN
Backups are a critical piece of any IT system. It doesn’t matter if you have servers onsite or in the cloud, you need backups. Sometimes this is for a legal reason, other times it’s simply because someone has deleted a file and they need it back.
For NFPs, backups are often relegated to the ‘we hope they’re working’ department. Imagine if all your systems fell over right now – would you be able to recover? Is there a Disaster Recovery document that is not saved on a server that can be followed to allow the organisation to get back to where they were in the quickest possible time? (this is called Recovery Time Objective, or RTO).
If you use a third party IT provider, they should be reporting backup successes and failures to you, and if there is a failure, what they are doing to resolve it and how long it it will take to resolve.
Some of you may be using SharePoint to save your organisation’s files too, and that’s fine. But you need to keep in mind that doesn’t mean they are backed up. SharePoint will save a deleted file for 90 days, and then it’s gone. If that’s not a concern to you, then great. But for most NFPs they need to be able to recover files older than. Microsoft offers backups (at a small cost for NFPs) of SharePoint, and there are other third party options out there too.
This is a feature of some Microsoft365 licenses. Here’s a scenario which we hope never happens to you. One of your staff sends a defamatory email, then permanently deletes it from their Sent Items. Six months later it’s well and truly gone and all of a sudden there is some legal action, and no one can find the email. The staff member may have even left the organisation.
Legal Hold is simple to employ. You turn it on for all staff, and they will not be impacted in any technical way. This does mean that any email sent/received is always held, only accessible by one of your IT administrators. Even if the staff member/user deletes the email instantly, it doesn’t matter; it will always be available if needed.
This is one of those ‘no-brainer’ tools that everyone should implement, as long as you have the license for it.
THE END GAME
As an NFP, it’s unlikely that IT is your core business. Check your Vision or Mission Statement – we bet you a coffee it says nothing about managing or maintaining IT systems.
Keep it simple, and get in touch if you want to have a no-obligation chat about any of the above.