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Office 365 for Nonprofits: Lunch & Learn Recap

CollaborationCloud Computing

Office 365, one of the leading solutions for bringing operations to the cloud, is now available at a discount for nonprofits and charities in Canada. To understand the impact of Office 365 on the Canadian nonprofit sector, Microsoft and TechSoup Canada hosted a lunch & learn to discuss Office 365 and its capabilities.

Panelists Sumeet Khanna (Microsoft), Kevin Hoddinott (Brampton Caledon Community Living) and Michael Chan (Audcomp) discussed the features and functionality of Office 365 and how nonprofits can benefit from migrating their operations to the cloud.

This post captures the common questions posed by the nonprofit community and the answers given by the panelists. You can also visit TechSoup Canada's YouTube channel to watch a recording of the event.

What is Office 365?

Office 365 is a cloud application that provides web-based access to familiar Office applications, plus professional email, instant messaging, calendar, video conferencing, and access to documents from anywhere across multiple devices (phones, tablets, laptops, desktops).

Sumeet explains how nonprofits can access Office 365 E1 Enterprise plan for free. If nonprofits want access to Office 365  E3 Enterprise Plan, they can at a discounted rate. For a high level comparison between the E1 and E3 plans, you can refer to our article:  “Are You Ready for Microsoft Office 365 for Nonprofits?”. Office 365 E3 plans also offer desktop applications* of Microsoft’s Office Suite that can be downloaded, in case staff does not want to work in their browsers.

*Through TechSoup Canada, nonprofits can also access donated and/or discounted Microsoft products, including Microsoft Office Suite applications. Click here to browse our Microsoft catalog

What are the benefits of switching to Office 365?

The ability for staff to “access files no matter where they are” is the biggest benefit for Caledon Community Living. 

Kevin gave an example of how Office 365 helped their on-call team. The on-call team consists of three managers that are dedicated to handling emergency or escalated cases. They were previously equipped with laptops for the purpose of looking up care plans and other necessary client information. Over time, however, the on-call team found their laptops difficult to use (ie., large to carry around, slow in accessing critical documents). Kevin switched them to Windows 8 tablets (equipped with SIM cards) so they can access files wherever they are with greater ease. The on-call team loves it as it allows them to be more mobile and responsive. They can respond to emergencies from anywhere and quickly take action because they’re no longer dealing with antiquated servers.

Another benefit that resonated with Brampton Caledon Community Living is the increased storage space. Now that emails and documents are saved on the cloud, staff are spared the time and frustration of having to delete emails in order to make room in their inbox (as of this time of writing, Office 365 offers 25gb of storage space in SkyDrive and 50gb of space for emails).

Since migrating to Office 365, Kevin also noted that they have less technical issues (ie., server down, can’t access internet/email). Most of the issues encountered by staff are easy to fix so he can spend more time on IT planning instead of troubleshooting. They rarely worry about their network now, and their head office operations are much smoother -- another key benefit for Community Living.

Will my data be safe?

Sumeet assures nonprofits that their data will be safe and secure on Microsoft’s data centres, located worldwide. These data centres are managed by Microsoft and third-party companies to ensure top-of-the-line data security. Sumeet mentions how Toyota, one of many large corporations that switched to Office 365, stores all their data in Microsoft’s data centres so nonprofits can have a high level of confidence in Microsoft’s ability to secure their data.

Michael adds how having data on the cloud can be more secure than having your data stored on internal hardware, simply because the data is continuously being backed up. Staff can be at ease knowing that their documents are saved on the cloud, despite whether they experience a power outage or a computer crash.

My nonprofit doesn’t have an IT department/staff to implement Office 365

Don’t worry! You have access to all the support you need, whether or not you have internal IT resources.

If your organization has little to no internal IT support, you can also consider working with Microsoft’s Cloud Deployment Partners (such as AudComp). Deployment partners are certified, Microsoft-trained professionals that help nonprofits migrate to the cloud platform. Michael from AudComp lists the benefits of working with a deployment partner:

  • Partners already have expertise on Microsoft technologies and are cloud certified
  • They can help transform your nonprofit infrastructure to run on the cloud
  • Partners have a good understanding on how most organizations are set-up, so they can help you with devising a migration plan, implementation, installation, troubleshooting, etc.

If your nonprofit has an existing IT team, deployment partners can work with them and train them as well. Kevin also reminded us of Microsoft’s existing customer support services. Having Microsoft’s support team available “on the phone was a huge advantage” for Kevin (available 24-7 at 1-877-568-2495) . They also offer Office 365 support available online that can help nonprofits with administrative questions, such as “how do I add new users?”.

Is it difficult to transition to Office 365?

Not if you implement Office 365 in stages.

Kevin started by introducing staff to Outlook, Office and SkyDrive, giving them access to all updated files at the same time regardless of their location. Staff were especially impressed with OneNote and used it for capturing board meeting minutes.

Once staff were familiar working collaboratively through SkyDrive, the IT and head office departments started using SharePoint. Kevin spent the next few months moving 300+ employees (across ~40 locations) onto SharePoint, eliminating the issues they previously had with one, outdated central server. There were challenges but overall “the transition [was] been relatively painless” for Brampton Caledon Community Living.

Is it hard to train staff to use Office 365?

Not at all. Since Office 365 was implemented in stages,  Kevin only experienced minor adoption issues (e.g, “my program shortcuts and buttons moved!”). During the Office 365 training, Brampton Caledon Community Living staff intuitively understood how Office 365 works and how each program functions because they were already familiar with Outlook, Office, SkyDrive and SharePoint.

However If nonprofits would like additional resources, Microsoft stores offers free Office 365 training sessions. Sumeet uses the Microsoft Store in Yorkdale Mall, Toronto Ontario, as an example, as they have Office 365 training packages and Product Advisors that are available as a resource for any organization.

My Nonprofit is already using Office 365, how do we switch to the nonprofit discount?

Nonprofits with current subscriptions to Office 365 may have to wait for their subscription to end, and then migrate to the donation or discount plan.

If your organization is on a commercial subscription, you will need to go through a validation process to find out if you qualify for Office 365 for Nonprofits. To start your validation process, visit Microsoft's Office 365 website and sign-up for a free trial.

If your organization is on a nonprofit pilot subscription, you can call Microsoft's customer service line (1-877-568-2495) to have your subscription adjusted.

For more information on Office 365 for Nonprofits: