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By: Corbin Hartwick, educational content writer with

What is "the cloud" and what is cloud storage?

"The cloud" refers to a computer concept whereby groups of large computers specializing in storing and processing information (known as "servers") work together to share information and workloads towards completing a specific task.

In "cloud computing" (as it's also called), the goal is to have these "server" computers store your computer files and run your computer programs, instead of having your laptop or desktop computer store or run them by itself.  This is especially useful if you have lots of files that take up a lot of memory space, or use programs that take a lot of processing power to run, as they could potentially slow a personal computer down.

The term "cloud" refers to the idea that these computer groups are floating through cyberspace like a cloud would, and so the information they share can be accessed by any computer on the Internet (that enters the right login information, of course). As a bonus, the individual computers that access these files and programs don't have to store or run them themselves, saving both memory space and processing power.

"Cloud storage" is a popular way that people use cloud computing. It involves storing computer files on dedicated server computers on the Internet, so that they don't have to keep those files on their own computer. Cloud storage also provides users access to their files from other computers (even ones that they only use temporarily), and even allows you to share files with others without the need to email or copy files to and from portable drives.

Check out this article to learn more about "the cloud" and "cloud storage.”

Why is cloud storage useful for my nonprofit?

There are three general ways that cloud storage can improve your nonprofit's workflow.

1. Accessibility

Files and programs on cloud storage servers can be accessed from pretty much any computer on the Internet that enters the right ID information. This means that your team members don't have to be using a specific computer in order to access or work with the materials that they need. They could use a computer at home, or even use a laptop or mobile device to access their work files on the go!

2. Interoperability

Because files stored on cloud servers can be accessed by anyone with the right credentials, you can often authorize several different people to use the same set of files by sharing folders. This allows each of your team members to work on a document in succession without having to pass it on through email or physical storage solutions (such as flash keys or external hard drives).

3. Security

Storing your nonprofit's files on cloud servers also makes them somewhat safer. If something happens to one of your computers - if it breaks or gets infected with malware - you won't have to worry about losing any of your files because they'll be safe on your cloud storage provider's servers on the Internet. Cloud storage services make the security of your files their top priority.

What else should I know about using cloud storage for my nonprofit?

Here are a few other tips that we can give you when using cloud storage.

1. Lock your cloud storage accounts with strong passwords

Like with many other types of Internet accounts, the password for your cloud storage accounts are a primary line of defence against those looking to steal or compromise  your files.  It’s recommended that you use a password management program, such as LastPass, Dashlane, Sticky Password or Keepass, so your passwords are stored in an encrypted database. 

If you prefer to forego using a password management program, make sure that each of your team members has a password for their cloud storage account that is at least 8 characters long, uses all three types of characters (i.e. letters, numbers, and symbols), uses both uppercase and lowercase letters, and doesn't follow any sort of easily-recognizable pattern.  And, of course, make sure that no two people are using the same password.

See this article for more tips on how to create strong passwords.

2. Don't store overly-sensitive information on cloud servers.

When you use cloud storage, you're basically putting your files on someone else's computer for them to hold onto for you. Although it will almost never happen, ask yourself what the worst-case scenario would be if the files on your cloud storage provider's servers were stolen or accidentally deleted. Some nonprofits may also be potentially bounded by the law to store sensitive information on Canadian soil (e.g. British Columbia and Nova Scotia have laws against public bodies storing data outside of Canada), in which case storing data on the cloud would not be compliant. 

Most work documents, such as Board meeting notes, marketing materials, and annual reports, should be okay to store on cloud servers. However, we would advise you to refrain from using cloud storage to safeguard files that contain things like confidential identity information (such as social security numbers), or financial credentials (such as credit card details). These should be transferred to a dedicated backup disk (see our next tip), and stored in a safe location in real life.

3. Have a secondary backup, just in case.

It might be overkill, but you may want a dedicated backup disk to store your files on, in addition to your cloud storage solution. A popular option is an external hard drive (or two); you can find them at most major electronics retailers. They're relatively inexpensive, can hold a lot of data, and usually work with common USB interfaces (though some may need an external power source). Just plug them in and drag your files onto them, and wait for the transfer to happen!

Which cloud storage solution should my nonprofit use?

There are several different cloud storage solutions out there on the Internet today. Some have functions that others don't, and some prioritize certain features and concepts over others.

One of the most popular cloud storage options is Dropbox. Its main strong points are that it's easy to setup and use, and it has simple but powerful file-sharing features. Here's a course on how to setup and use Dropbox for your nonprofit.

Another great option for nonprofits and charities is Through TechSoup Canada, qualified organizations can get 10 perpetual user-licences (they don’t expire!) for $127.

Dropbox and also has several popular competitors, including SpiderOak and TeamDrive.  Read a more detailed overview of them in this Dropbox alternatives article.

We hope that this article helps you to make an informed decision on whether or not using a cloud storage solution to manage your nonprofit's files is the right way to go.

About the author

Corbin Hartwick is an educational content writer with; a free education website that teaches older adults and others with linmited computer skills how to use popular and trusted websties on the internet.