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TechSoup Battles: Cloud tools for Office Administration

ProductivityCollaborationCloud ToolsCloud Computing

Are you new to TechSoup Battles? Check out our intro and our previous challenges.

Are you frustrated with how your email works (or doesn’t)? Is your server getting old and clunky? Do you wish that you could access all your files easily from home, or on the road, while still keeping everything secure?

These are everyday challenges faced by many nonprofits in Canada - and since email and documents are something you need to access a daily basis, not having good systems results in a lot of productivity loss over the long term. That’s why this edition of TechSoup Battles will focus on online productivity suites that will address these challenges: in particular, Google Apps for Business and Microsoft’s Office 365 for Nonprofits.

What do Google Apps and Office 365 do anyway?

In a nutshell, these suites bring together many programs that will help you run your nonprofit, and put them in the cloud. This includes:

  • Email (with professional email addresses -
  • Calendars & calendar sharing
  • File storage & file sharing (a cloud “network drive”)
  • Collaborative document editing, and editing documents online
  • Internal intranet sites
  • Basic public websites
  • Chat (instant messaging) between staff
  • Video conferencing/online meetings

These suites don’t include components such as: tracking/managing clients and donors (assuming you use something other than Excel), special systems that help you run your programs/services, social media and virus protection. (I share this because sometimes it’s helpful to understand what a system doesn’t do, as well as what it does do.)

Why should I care?

I think that online productivity suites like Google Apps and Office 365 are a great option for many nonprofits for several reasons:

1. Requires less IT support

Many nonprofits don’t have any in-house IT support, and those that do are often short-staffed, so simplifying the IT administration required to run your systems is a big win. Using a cloud system tends to be less work to administer as most of the admin is looked after for you - leaving you with more manageable tasks such as adding new users and helping staff to learn the system. Many nonprofits will still want some IT support (especially to get the cloud system set up), but overall you will likely come out ahead.

2. Great functionality that you can access anywhere

You don’t need the cloud to create an robust IT system with great functionality. However in my experience, many nonprofits don’t have this setup - they have several systems (which may or may not be synced or integrated) which cover the basics but doesn’t really provide the support they need. Online productivity suites tend to be a great way to get some solid functionality at an affordable cost. 

As well, since everything is in the cloud, staff and volunteers can access their work anywhere. This means that you can stop emailing files to your personal email or saving them to a USB drive, and that you can travel or work from home with greater ease.

3. Grows with you

These online productivity suites come with a lot of functionality, but you don’t have to use it all right away! Many nonprofits move their email to the cloud, and then later on decide to embrace other features such as file sharing or internal team sites. This makes online productivity suites a good choice in both the short term and in the long term (as opposed to piecing together a mix of stand-alone solutions that only focus on one area).

Important note: not all nonprofits choose to move to the cloud, and that’s ok too. For example, if you have very private information or you don’t have a solid internet connection, the cloud might not be the best choice.

Which online productivity suite is the best?

Well… there’s no way to give a blanket answer to that question. For this review we’re going to focus on Google Apps and Office 365, however there are also other options such as Zoho that are worth consideration.

Why are we focusing on these two? Google and Microsoft are large, stable companies and their online productivity suites are used by small business, enterprises, government and education. This means that they’re not likely to go away anytime soon. They also already have a large nonprofit user base, so you can connect with others who are using the same tool.

The results

You can click on Joyce and Tierney's individual reviews to see the features and functionality of each suite. In the mean time, here is a high level summary:


Tierney reviews Google Apps

Joyce reviews Office 365


Free for eligible nonprofits & charities or $5/user/month (USD)

Free or $5.20/user/month (CAD), depending on your plan for qualified nonprofits

Quick description

Google’s applications in the cloud - Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive/Google Docs, Google Sites & more

Microsoft’s applications hosted in the cloud - Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint, Lync & more
Might be a good
fit if...
You prefer Google’s simpler interfaces and you want to create a highly collaborative working environment. Your staff are very comfortable with Microsoft products and want increased mobility without having to learn a new system.

Further Resources

Our review posts highlight some of the major features in each tool; if you’re looking for a point-by-point comparison of the two, this one is pretty helpful (note that it’s from a US business perspective). I also enjoyed this video by Forrester for an industry analyst perspective on the two.