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Should you be in the cloud?

The cloud. Few phrases have gotten more buzz in recent years. Of course, what that buzz means to nonprofits is rarely discussed with any great detail.

Andrew Fass Andrew Fass

Before we get into those details, we must understand what is really meant by the cloud. While the National Institute of Standards and Technology has a unwieldy (yet accurate) 727-word definition, we can simply view cloud computing as an organization handing over some or all its IT infrastructure and operations to a fully hosted environment, maintained by a third party and usually accessed via the web. While the term “cloud” may seem otherworldly, the fact is we are usually just discussing servers in a highly maintained and highly supervised off-site location.

Cloud computing is not foreign to nonprofits, though. TechSoup Global found that 90 percent of nonprofits report already using at least one cloud computing application. However, among those same respondents, 60 percent state that lack of knowledge is preventing them from using the cloud more often, and for more applications.

With this lack of knowledge, it is often core services and data – like financials, donor information, revenue data, etc. – that remains tethered to traditional IT infrastructure. However, with a growing comfort level and last year’s release of a more robust Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, we are discovering more clients who are ready to cut those ties, especially once they fully understand its value. Here are a few specific benefits:

  • Predictable annual IT budgets.
  • No upfront capital investment in hardware.
  • Virtually eliminates down time.
  • Data is accessible to a wide variety of authorized personnel.
  • Data is secure and can be easily recovered.
  • Maintenance of the infrastructure (i.e. operating systems) is performed automatically.
  • Internal IT personnel can focus on other priorities.

Not surprisingly, a lot of CFOs, controllers and business managers get excited about having more predictable and smaller IT budgets and investments. How much your organization can save varies depending on the number of users, the amount of data and other factors, but there is usually savings to be had.

On the other hand, nonprofit personnel often have less confidence that data in the cloud is truly secure and recoverable. When we see stories about organizations being hacked, it is easy to understand their trepidation. However, those concerns are based primarily in a comfort level with past practices and with on-site systems. In reality, security and privacy is often much greater with major cloud providers. For example, Windows Azure has 24/7 operations staff at eight data centers around the world and this staff conducts regular testing on its security controls and processes. Additionally, lost or deleted data can often be recovered through regularly scheduled point-in-time backups. Other cloud providers have similar security practices.

Still, it is sometimes difficult for nonprofits to let down their guard and trust something that sounds and feels intangible. However, once you understand how it impacts the operations of your nonprofit, you may find the pull of the cloud too strong to resist.

The preceding is a guest post by Andrew Fass, CEO and founder of AVF Consulting, Inc., a Microsoft Enterprise Resource Planning partner offering financial management software and business applications to nonprofits and NGOs nationwide. AVF has been providing design, analysis, development, implementation, training and support of accounting, HR, and payroll solutions since 1986 and is a leading Microsoft Dynamics NAV and Serenic Navigator partner. Clients include American Psychological Association, Carnegie Institute, ASCD, American Urological Association, SCO Family of Services, Philadelphia Zoo, Arc of Middlesex, and Archdiocese of Atlanta. For more information, please visit: or contact the author at:

Topics: Trends