How to help a non-profit organization benefit from Google Apps

Andy Wolber highlights six steps to help your company partner with a social change organization to use Google Apps.

Google Apps

Imagine the impact that a move to Google Apps might have for a non-profit organization. People can access email anywhere, from almost any device. Shared calendars simplify scheduling. Committee members can privately create, share, and edit meeting agendas, minutes, plans, and budgets.

Although staff at non-profit organizations "feel relatively confident that they have the tools to do their every-day work," they "are less confident about having enough skilled staff or training to effectively use their technology for their work," according to The 8th Annual Nonprofit Technology Staffing & Investments report. (NTEN, a non-profit technology membership association, released the survey in July 2014.)

That's where you, a tech professional familiar with Google Apps, come in. You can help.

Google makes Google Apps available for free to social benefit organizations in eight countries: Australia, Canada, England, France, Japan, New Zealand, the United States, and Wales. The non-profit organization must apply and receive approval. (See my earlier article, "Use your tech savvy for a good cause: Help a non-profit migrate to Google Apps" for details on the application process.)

But a successful move to Google Apps takes more than a sign-up and switch. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you connect your organization -- and knowledge of Google Apps -- to work for a non-profit whose cause you support.

1. Identify a non-profit organization

Your company already may have established a partnership with one -- or more -- community organizations. Check with the people in your organization that establish and maintain relationships with non-profit organizations. The person typically works in community affairs, human resources, marketing, or the CEO's office. Ideally, you'll identify an organization with a cause that you and your team support.

If your company doesn't yet engage with local organizations or schools, consult a community foundation to help identify a potential non-profit partner. Community foundation staff are often familiar with social benefit organizations in a community and may be able to advise.

2. Start a dialogue

Start a conversation with people at the identified organization. Listen carefully to understand the organization's needs and current systems. Make certain that Google Apps solves a real problem for the agency. If it doesn't, don't switch. Ideally, you'll find an agency that has been considering a move to Google Apps and wants help.

I recommend you work with an organization where both the staff and board leadership support the switch to Google Apps. Staff support spurs daily use: the employees will be the ones to use Gmail, Docs, and Drive. Board support makes continued use of Google Apps likely, even if there should be a change in staff leadership.

3. Plan, train, then switch

Before the switch, check the organization's internet speed and network setup. The organization may need to increase the connection speed or upgrade networking equipment. Your team may be able to help with both of these tasks.

Identify two contact people: one from your company, and one from the non-profit agency. Ask these people to serve as a central point of contact. Ask staff at the non-profit organization to route questions to that person, and ask your staff to route details and questions to your staff person. This helps smooth -- and streamline -- project communication.

Provide a Google Apps training session before the switch. Use the session to give an overview of Gmail, Google Calendar, Contacts, and Chrome. Don't make it a comprehensive overview. Instead, make sure people understand the basics of email and calendars, plus how to access Google Apps in both Chrome and from mobile apps.

Next, help the organization through all of Google's suggested deployment steps. Be sure to schedule the switchover at a time when both organizations have the ability to handle such a change.

4. Share responsibility

You might set up three accounts with Google Apps administrator privileges: a staff member, a board member, and a person from your tech team. With three administrators, you'll ensure the continuity of administrative access when any of the three experience a change in leadership.

5. Build toward success

If possible, have your team on-site on the day of the switchover. This simplifies mobile device configuration, in particular. This may also be an opportunity for your team to see the impact of their help and understand the work of the agency.

Plan at least one more training session about 10 days after the switch. This provides staff of the non-profit organization the opportunity to ask questions, and it gives your team time to teach a few more mini-lessons (see my article "6 steps to team success with Google Apps"). For example, you might cover features of Google Docs, Drive, or Hangouts.

6. Clarify the commitment

Clarify what -- if any -- on-going assistance that you or your team can provide. Be honest and direct. Now is not the time to "wish" you could provide support. If you are unable to provide additional help after the project is complete, say so. Ideally, though, you'll be able to commit a specific number of hours -- or staff time -- to help monitor, manage, and support the organization's use of Google Apps.

The move to Google Apps can have a profoundly positive impact on people's work. If you have the chance, share your tech team's expertise and help a non-profit move to Google Apps. If possible, treat the switch as the beginning of an ongoing, long-term partnership between your company and the non-profit organization. It's your chance to help people working for change change how they work.

Have you volunteered your time to help a non-profit organization with Google Apps? Has your company established long-term partnerships to help a social benefit organization with technology? If so, please share your experience in the discussion thread below.