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Google Apps Boot Camp Recap

IMPORTANT NOTE: Google has just announced that on May 10, 2011 they are reducing the number of users available on their free version of Google Apps from 50 users to 10 users. If you are at all thinking about Google Apps, I recommend signing up now before the limit is reduced. While it is likely that charities will be eligible for a Google for Nonprofits discount in the future, (a) you may still have to pay, though it will be discounted and (b) this program may never be available for Canadian nonprofits that aren't charities.

Yesterday we tried a new type of event - a Boot Camp, focusing around a specific tool and how it can be used. We decided to focus on Google Apps, a tool that we at TechSoup Canada have found very useful internally and we think is a good option to consider for many nonprofits.

What is Google Apps & Is it Right for Me?

I started off the morning by bringing everyone up to speed on what Google Apps is. It can be confusing because Google's services can also be accessed through an individual Gmail account; however with Google Apps you access services through your organization account (e.g. jdoe@mydomain.com). I went through the different applications that are part of Google Apps and the advantages/disadvantages to using this system.

As much as I think Google Apps is a good tool, every organization has different needs. Simply jumping into a tool because someone else has recommended it won't necessarily mean it will be successful in your organization, so it's important to take the time to plan. For organizations that already use Google Apps, I recommend taking the time to evaluate how well it fits with their people, process and technology. This is certainly something we do internally at TechSoup Canada - although we've had Google Apps for two years, we only just set up a good organizing system for collections in response to our recent organizational growth.

Resource: Tech Planning Questions Worksheet

Getting Started with Google Apps

Next up, Anil and Amanda from Framework Timeraiser presented about how to get started with Google Apps and some tips for administrators. If you're signing up for the first time, you should make sure:

  • You know who is hosting your domain (your domain is what people to go to get to your website, e.g. techsoupcanada.ca)
  • You know the username and password needed to log into your domain hosting provider

If you don't have a domain, you can get one through Google. To get started, go to https://www.google.com/a/cpanel/domain/new. Once you've entered your domain, Google will walk you through the steps required to sign up. Be aware that it will be a bit different depending on your hosting provider.

Since many nonprofits will be using the free account, it's important to manage how many active users you have to stay under the limit of 50. Administrators have the option to suspend or delete accounts - for example, if you have a volunteer that is only active part of the year, you could suspend their account for the rest of the year.

Google Apps Case Studies

The last section of the morning was focused on actually using the different applications that are part of Google Apps, and sharing how they are used in different organizations. Doug from OCASI started off by showing various different features of Google Apps, including:

  • priority inbox for getting straight to your important emails
  • editing Google Documents in real-time - complete with an impromptu demo with Amanda, Anil and Doug all editing the same document
  • sharing documents and the different privacy options available
  • discussions and commenting in Google Documents
  • scheduling a meeting in Google Calendar and checking coworker's calendars to find a time that works for everyone
  • using calendars for resource management
  • publishing calendars publicly
  • create a Google Site to share information with coworkers
  • the many devices that Google Apps works on, including tablets and smartphones

TechSoup Canada shared a few ways we use Google Apps:

  • We have a customer service email address that our two US-based customer service reps and our Canada-based staff can log into. Tags are used to indicate who should deal with each email, so we can manage customer service enquiries appropriately.
  • In Google Documents, we organize all of our documents in collections. We did this after realizing that we had a lot of documents that weren't organized and we had trouble finding everything, so we met as a group and decided on a document structure that would work for all of us.
  • We have a Google Site for tracking internal processes, and another one for reporting & metrics that we share with the people we need to report to. However, our site for internal processes has been around for a long time and we haven't put a lot of work into managing it, so it's got a bit unweildy and needs some attention to organize the information better.

Anil and Amanda pointed us to their website, www.frameworkorg.org/, where they share a lot of their internal documents and information in real time. This is made possible through Google Apps and the Google Apps Marketplace tools they use such as Smartsheets and Box.net. It's pretty impressive work - they are a great example of how a good technology strategy can make a big difference in the way you operate as an organization.

If you weren't able to attend or are out of Toronto, sign up for our free webinar on May 5 which will provide a basic introduction to Google Apps.