Moving to the Cloud: Pros and Cons
Is the future of nonprofit technology in the cloud?
Nine in 10 nonprofits already have one system hosted online, according to a recent survey of 780 nonprofits by the Nonprofit Technology Network. But it’s not
ideal for every organization.
“It’s not like one-size-fits-all,” says Patrick Callihan, executive director of NPower Pennsylvania, a nonprofit that provides technology services to other organizations. “It’s technology.”
What’s right for your nonprofit? Mr. Callihan and other nonprofit information-technology leaders outline the risks and benefits of moving systems to the cloud.
Cloud services are housed on virtual servers and can move quickly between a
provider’s physical machines, which means that outside experts can quickly manage disruptions and minimize the time staff members typically lose when their own
servers crash, says Mr. Callihan.
Ease of expansion and predictability
Many cloud services bill on a per-user basis, so they can work well for small organizations that need only a few accounts. You also know exactly what you will be
paying each month for services like e-mail and know how much to budget, says Mr.
About 59 percent of people in the NTEN survey cited security, privacy, control,
and access, as concerns about the cloud. But some cloud services may be more
secure than systems that are managed in-house. Few nonprofits have a security expert on staff, but cloud services could have dozens of people who work to keep the
If you work at a small nonprofit, your days are already filled. With cloud services,
your IT staff can spend less time dealing with hardware and more time working on
your software and processes.
“The cloud is one way to keep your work focused on your mission and not have
to worry about keeping a server alive,” says Holly Ross, Nonprofit Technology Network’s executive director.
Lack of control
You may not be managing the servers directly, but you still have responsibility for your data. Before choosing a cloud service, ask to see an audit
or certification of its security, backups, and maintenance practices. Determine what happens to your data if the company changes hands or goes
out of business, and make sure your organization still owns the information and can take it from the cloud when you want it.
“When you put your eggs in someone else’s basket, you have to be awfully careful,” says Rose de Fremery, director of information technology at
American Jewish World Service.
Peter Campbell, information-technology director at the environmental-law nonprofit Earthjustice, says it isn’t possible for his organization to
move completely to the cloud because of the systems it has already built.
Earthjustice’s fundraising application, for example, requires a local server for its e-mail. “The more complex the technology, the more difficult it
gets,” he says.
On most nonprofit accounting forms, servers are listed as a capital cost,
but online services are operational expenses. Shifting what you spend between those categories can change how charity-ranking organizations and
foundations view your nonprofit, Mr. Campbell and Mr. Callihan say.
How to Face Down Troublemakers
Whether your nonprofit deals with
a controversial issue or not, chances
are good that you may meet negative
comments from a vocal detractor, often called a “troll.”
Public criticism of nonprofits on
sites such as Facebook or private
message boards isn’t as common as
some people think, says Richard Millington, founder of FeverBee Limited, an online consultant in London.
But almost every group encounters
troublemakers now and then, and
dealing with them is a challenge for
When you do have to deal with vitriol, consider the following questions.
What’s their motivation?
People who search out a nonprofit
online to cause trouble usually disagree with the group’s mission, Mr.
Millington says. But not all of them
WHAT IS A TROLL?
Someone who posts malicious
or inflammatory comments on
social networks, blogs, or discussion threads.
Chris Eaton, a social-media strategist at Greenpeace, says he regularly
sees two kinds of disrupters: people
who are passionate about an issue
and those who just want to quarrel.
Mr. Millington says it’s best to give
disruptive people the chance to explain their positions.
Mr. Eaton says he responds to any
accusation by answering it as if it
was a question and makes sure the
person feels that his or her views
have been heard. After they get an
acknowledgment, many people will
Should this person be treated as
Sometimes a debate can be good
for an organization, as long as it
doesn’t include personal threats or
malign the institution. In fact, Mr.
Millington says a vocal opponent can
often galvanize supporters. Not
everyone has to get along all the
“I’m perfectly happy to have people in a community not be liked,” he
Mr. Eaton said a strong group of
supporters will sometimes deal with
negative comments on their own.
There you #@&^*&!* go again! More with the wacko ideas about saving the world. If I didn’t know any better, I’d assume you were a bunch of *$@#7&
Is responding worth your
If you don’t want to deal with the
troublemaker, just delete his or her
comments or block them from participating in online discussions.
While the Coalition to Stop Gun
Violence once allowed debate on its
blogs and Facebook page, it became
a burden to keep up with comments
that crossed the line, says Ladd
Everitt, director of communications.
He decided to spend his time doing
something more effective and barred
negative comments. “It doesn’t help
our mission, and it doesn’t help the
people who support us,” he says.
Should I go a step further?
You can ban a problem member,
but a devoted agitator can find a way
to get back in. If a commenter is particularly abusive, a community manager can alert police or contact the
person’s Internet service provider.