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TechSoup Battles: Tierney Reviews Google Apps

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As nonprofits, we don’t have a lot of time, especially for IT - so a great way to get a good, reliable system to meet a range of office administration needs is to use a cloud suite such as Google Apps or Office 365.

In the opinion of Tom Evers, the Executive Director at Playworks Twin Cities which uses Google Apps, the biggest advantage is that “it helps us focus on what we need to do, which is... helping kids play more in schools… it allows us to not spend a lot of time and energy focusing on some of the nitty gritty stuff of technology that can bog down a workday.” In this quick 2-minute video you can learn more about Playworks’ experience.

So what is Google Apps and should you use it? In this blog post we’ll look at the main features of Google Apps, and some examples of how these can be used for your nonprofit.

Getting Started & Pricing

Once you sign up for a Google Apps account, Google has created a setup wizard to help you through the process. While you don’t have to be an IT expert, some tech knowledge is helpful to complete steps such as verifying your domain ownership.

Google Apps for Business costs $5/user/month USD, so it’s not free but it does provide great value for the cost. As of the writing of this post there is no discount for nonprofits or charities in Canada.

On the whole, most of the features of Google Apps we’ll look at are quite similar to the free, personal offering. The main differences that you’ll notice are that it recognizes your organization’s domain (e.g. - which is particularly useful for setting permissions - and there is a central administrative console where you can administer your organization’s users and settings.


Have you used Gmail before? If yes, then you’ll feel right at home in Google Apps, because Gmail is the email client and it’s exactly the same. The two most noticeable differences are that your email ends with your domain (e.g. and your organization’s logo is in the corner.

On the other hand, you (or others in your nonprofit) may prefer to stick with Microsoft Outlook (or your email client of choice). This isn’t a problem as you can sync your email with Outlook, and it’s a great way to get everyone on board and make the change less stressful.


Google Calendar is simple to use and has all the features you would expect from a digital calendar - creating events, inviting participants and tracking their responses, repeating events, etc. When used in an organization setting, you can choose to share your calendar with everyone in the organization - with the ability to either see all event details or see only free/busy (and hide the details). Then, you can add coworker’s calendars to your calendar view, making it easier to see when others are busy and schedule meetings.

You can also create calendars that aren’t for a specific person per se, but allow you to track other things. I know several organizations who use Google Calendar for booking meeting rooms or other assets such as projectors. One of our organization-wide calendars is used to track staff vacation.

Bonus: if you choose to make your calendar public, you can also easily embed it in your website. This is a quick way to keep your supporters or members in the loop about events, booking availability or important dates.


Google Drive (formerly known as Google Docs) allows you to store and share your organization’s files - including your Word, Excel, PDF, image files etc. as well as your Google Documents. Since I had a lot to say about Google Drive I wrote a separate blog post explaining how you can use Google Drive as your nonprofits’ file system.


Google Sites lets you build simple websites. What I like about it is that it’s simple to use, so it’s very accessible even if you have never made a site before. Google Sites


Some ways you can use Google Sites include as a wiki, a repository for training information/processes (how we’ve used it most often), a project or team hub, or an information site. You can choose for your sites to be internal only, or public. Being integrated with the Google suite also makes it very easy to include Google documents, calendars, etc. Google Hangouts (chat)

Chat and Hangouts

Sometimes email is a bit formal and you want a quicker response from one of your coworkers, or to have more of a discussion. This is where having an instant messaging system internally can be very useful, whether you staff/volunteers work remotely, are in offices across the country, or all sit in the same room. We have 7 staff in an open-concept office and we still find this extremely useful - for example to have a conversation without disturbing others, or to share a link.

Gmail includes Hangouts (which used to be known as Google Chat but now has more features). This lets you send messages to your coworkers (or groups up to 100 people) and host video calls (with up to 15 people). Hangouts lives in the bottom left corner of your Gmail window so it’s close at hand.

In Conclusion

Google Apps is a great tool to manage your email, documents and other back office needs. It’s great to have everything bundled into one reliable, backed up system. The only ongoing administration work we need to do is adding new users and occasionally changing other settings. And once you’re ready to take it to the next level, you can find other applications that integrate in the Google Apps Marketplace. We’ve been using Google Apps at TechSoup Canada since we started in 2009 and have been very happy with it overall.

Is there anything we don’t like about Google Apps? From a user perspective, while it’s a pretty user-friendly system, there can be a bit of a learning curve if your team has never used Google products before. There’s also a bit of an ongoing learning curve as Google will periodically update with new products and features. On the whole updates are good, but it means some adjustment each time.

What do you think? Do you use Google Apps at your nonprofit? Share your thoughts on Twitter (#janevstierney), Facebook, below in the comments or send us an email.