Posted by Tom Nielsen

You’ve likely heard references to cloud computing over the past few years but wondered just what it is and how it pertains to your organization. Simply put, instead of storing your information on a local hard drive, cloud computing stores your information on a server over the internet. So, technically it’s not up in “the clouds.” But it is in a secure place where you don’t have to deal with clunky equipment.

Cloud computing has become a mainstream IT approach and has been readily adopted by several nonprofits. In fact, you may be using cloud-based applications without knowing it, including email programs (Gmail), office productivity apps (Google Drive), file storage and share apps (Dropbox) and CRM tools (Salesforce).

If you’re still a little fuzzy on what cloud computing is and how your organization could benefit, here are the basics.

Why is cloud-based data storage a thing? You have information on your computer, right? That information is only accessible on that particular computer, and you have limited storage with potentially no backup plan. When you use cloud-based storage, your information can be stored in a much more powerful server that has stronger security, more storage and better backup of data. Providers of cloud-based services also provide secure email and document delivery. Cloud-based storage gives nonprofits a better way to store and back up important information and data, plus it makes it more accessible to a variety of key people.

How could my nonprofit benefit from cloud-based data storage? If you’re like many nonprofits, you have limited space and budget. Are your computers, printers and other office equipment ready to be replaced? That costs money. But when you use cloud-based storage, you can limit how much hardware you need, thereby decreasing your equipment costs. You’ll also reduce costs associated with license fees, upgrades to new software versions and the required infrastructure maintenance.

Can my organization afford to move to the cloud? Cloud-based storage is cost effective. By making the move to digital storage, you’ll save money on ink, paper and equipment, plus cut down on payable hours for extra office staff. In the event that your computers are lost, stolen or destroyed, all your information will be safe in the cloud and can be accessed from anywhere.

Besides saving money, what are the benefits? Is your organization interested in reaching new goals or expanding your reach to donors and community members? In many cases, nonprofits are limited because of technology restrictions. By using cloud services, you may be able to achieve more and broaden your constituent base while reducing costs. Also, cloud storage is highly reliable—you don’t have to worry about equipment or back-up failures.

What about security? Your donor list contains sensitive information. By storing your data in the cloud, in a secure content management system, it is encrypted and password protected. Just beware of “free data storage”—it may not be as secure as you need it to be. Any particular solution should be able to tell you about their specific security policies and procedures.