A (Non)Profitable Journey — Part 1

I am embarking on a series of posts about how non-profits can benefit from Office 365, the Microsoft programs for non-profits and a bunch of other goodies on the side, all to better help non-profits squeeze every ounce of value they can from their limited financial resources.  And this won’t all just be “theory”, I’ll be detailing how a non-profit that I volunteer with – Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary in Victoria, BC (www.swanlake.bc.ca, check it out, it’s pretty special) – is growing and leveraging the tools at their disposal.  Kathleen Burton, the  new Executive Director, has a vision of where she wants to see Swan Lake go and she has a background that has exposed her to many of the tools that larger organizations are used to having at their disposal.  She wanted access to some or all of those tools if possible to modernize Swan Lake and set it on a path to the next level.  Kathleen discussed her vision with me and I decided that Swan Lake was fairly representative of non-profits everywhere – lots of good ideas, supremely strained finances and needful of help to get to where they want to go.  I also decided to dive in and help because it is “the right thing to do” to give back to the community.  I can’t help every non-profit out there, at least not directly, but if our efforts at Swan Lake are documented and if we can highlight a path that others can follow, then we all benefit.

So there you have it, I’m going to lay it all out, warts and all.  I hope your non-profit can benefit from the things we learn on this journey!

First, some background on Swan Lake.

Like all non-profits, Swan Lake’s technical infrastructure is a mixed bag.  They have a number of PC’s of varying ages and specification, all running Windows 7.  They have an older HP server (government surplus)running Server 2012 as a Hyper-V host with two VM’s on it – SBS 2011 and a non-used Server 2008 R2 terminal server.  There is a mixed bag of software including Microsoft Office, graphics programs, Basic Funder (a fund raising management system) and a few other programs.  There is no central anti-virus in place, SBS is not leveraged, Exchange is not properly configured (they rely on POP3 downloads from their external email provider), group policy is pretty much non-existent.  They have two office buildings, both on separate Shaw feeds, each building has a small Linksys router with a site-to-site VPN in place between the routers. Networking and DNS is poorly designed and implemented between the sites.  In fact, overall, the implementation of SBS and the Hyper-V host is very poorly executed.  Backups are non-operational.

So, yes, it’s a mess.  But, sadly, not atypical of your average non-profit.


They have done a few things right, though!  First and foremost, they have signed up with TechSoup and they have made some smart Microsoft licensing purchases through them.  If your are a non-profit and if you have NOT signed up with TechSoup, then you are missing the boat.  TechSoup acts as a “clearing house” for a number of tech vendors and their programs for non-profits.  Each vendor sets their own eligibility rules but TechSoup manages the processes and makes it pretty easy for non-profits to navigate the various vendor’s plans.  Microsoft has some very particular rules (in Canada you have to be a federally-registered non-profit or charity to qualify) but if you do qualify they offer some pretty incredible deals to non-profits on pretty much the whole product lineup.  This is also true for many of the other vendors that are offered through TechSoup.  If you have not checked them out then now is the time to do so, in Canada it is www.techsoupcanada.ca, in the US it is www.techsoup.org.  There is a global TechSoup site that can help you find your regional TechSoup, it is at www.techsoupglobal.org.  If you take nothing else away from this series of blog posts, take this away and sign up now.



The second thing they have now done is to sign up with Office365 as a non-profit.  This process is separate from TechSoup (although you can initiate order through TechSoup if you wish) and is actually pretty easy.  You sign up for an Office 365 non-profit trial then apply for non-profit licensing.  If you are accepted for non-profit licensing you can get “free” licensing for a number of users at the Business Essentials level or super cheap licensing (in Canada it is $2/mth per user) for Business Premium that provides Office 2013 licensing on top of all of the Office 365 services.  This is a monster value for any qualifying non-profit and kudos to Microsoft for really stepping up to the plate with this one.  This is not a “stripped down” or otherwise hobbled service offering, it is the same O365 service that businesses pay decent money for on a monthly basis.  This is the other big takeaway from this post … sign up with O365 and leverage the daylights out of it!

I’ll be detailing how Swan Lake makes use of O365 in future posts as well as describe  how they moved on to the platform from their SBS.  Kathleen is keen to start making use of SharePoint and OneDrive and is also looking at Yammer.  I’ll talk about a of that and more in future posts so please check back on a regular basis.  I think there is going to be some interesting stuff happening!