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Volunteering in the Cloud

Volunteer ManagementCloud ToolsCloud Computing

Cara HicksBy: Cara Hicks, Girl Guide Leader/Brown Owl for 119th Ottawa Brownies, and Blogger at

Editor's Note: A version of this blog was originally posted on Cara's blog, and she kindly created an edited version (posted here) to provide more background on Guiding and further explanation of her experience with the different tools.

If you’ve ever been a Girl Guide or Scout leader, you know that there is a huge amount of paperwork that comes with the job. There are meeting Guiding in the clouds logoplans, event permission forms, activity permission forms, newsletters and camp announcements.

As a busy Girl Guide leader for a Brownie Unit in Ottawa, Ontario, my team and I do meet for face-to-face, long-term planning, but we use the internet to research ideas and to finalize things in the days (often hours!) before our weekly meetings. As we searched for a solution that worked for us, we started with e-mail (which is good for discussion but gets confusing and has no file version control), spent some time with group sites and finally settled on a cloud-based file-sharing service called Dropbox. Here’s how we made the decision…

Dropbox logo

Dropbox offers free cloud-based file-sharing that allows you to save files in a central location that can be accessed only by the people you invite.

Pros – It is so easy! One person opens an account, creates a private folder, and shares it with the team. Team members sign up for Dropbox and accept the invitation to see the folder, edit files and post new ones. The Dropbox desktop application easily integrates Dropbox into your computer’s local file tree. To make changes to a document, a team member opens a file with the desktop application or through the Dropbox site, make changes, then save it or re-upload the file back to Dropbox.  Dropbox handles Microsoft programs beautifully and table formatting always stays put. 

Cons – Public Folder Caution! If you want to share something with the entire world, use the file marked Public. (Share a Private Folder with specific people instead).

Google logo

Google Docs is another free cloud-based file-sharing service that allows you to save files in a central location. All you need is a Gmail account.

Pros – Excellent file sharing and security features. You can upload Microsoft (MS) files or convert existing ones to the Google versions. If you know how to use MS Word, you can figure out how to create and edit a Google Document (or presentation, spreadsheet, etc.)  A huge benefit is that you don’t need to own the MS Suite of programs in order to create a professional document.  On a volunteer’s salary, free stuff is always good.

Cons – Does not handle MS programs well. You can upload MS documents, but you can’t edit them online unless you convert files to Google Docs. Beware! Conversion rearranges tables and formatting! Since my team uses tables in most of our documents – not to mention that the permission forms from Guiding are loaded with tables – this did not work for us. (You CAN still download a file, edit it, and re-upload it in MS without converting it, but you can do that with Dropbox, with the added advantage of the Dropbox desktop application).  

Facebook logo

Facebook Groups are free group sites where members can post messages, participate in discussions and share photos.

Pros - Particularly good for Pathfinders and Rangers – units where the girls are older and involved in planning. Discussions are pretty easy to follow and you can limit access to your group so security is as assured as it can be with a public site. All participants must have a free Facebook account (Facebook requires its members to be at least 13 years of age) and the group is moderated by the person who started it.

Cons – File sharing isn’t supported but you can create a “Facebook Doc” that behaves like a Note.

Our decision to go with Dropbox came down to local file integration and the ability to be sure that table formatting stays put. My team benefits every day from being able to access all of our information, forms, budgets, plans and schedules from one central spot and I can see the possibilities for hockey teams, volunteer boards, church committees, as well as for Guiders and Scouters. I hope you try it.

Cara Hicks is a Girl Guide Leader/Brown Owl for the 119th Ottawa Brownies and Blogger at During the day, she supervises a not-for-profit association IT department.