Paul Tronnier, Technology Director, North Carolina Center for Nonprofits
The nonprofit world was a strange new world for me. I have the unique experience of moving from what I call the “.com world”, where everything is about sales and profits, to the “.org world”, where the focus is on your vision, mission, and helping your community. I also moved from an IT department loaded with experts, to a few team members helping with IT task’s part time. And, of course, you inherit a hodge podge of hardware and software, including Microsoft solutions, pieced together as best as possible with limited budgets. During this journey, the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits (aka the Center) and I have learned a lot.
One of the pleasant surprises was Microsoft’s commitment to nonprofits, and how easy and affordable they make it for smaller nonprofits to get started (or upgrade) using their solutions. The Center has completed migrating away from older Microsoft tools and licenses to their latest cloud-based solutions packed with new features. I hope sharing our experience may help you if your organization is considering doing the same. Here are 5 simple steps to ensure your nonprofit is getting the best of Microsoft.
- Check your eligibility. Not all nonprofit organizations are eligible for Microsoft nonprofit discounts, so check your eligibility. Basically, you must be a 501(c)(3), a public library, or a public museum and have a mission to benefit the local community. If your nonprofit is not eligible, you can still take advantage of Microsoft’s free training (see links below).
- If you’re eligible, apply here. The person completing the registration must be an employee or strategic volunteer of your nonprofit. It’s best to use an email your nonprofit will have long term so you never have to transfer subscriptions, licenses, etc. The Center registered using our CFO’s email, then added our general IT email after being approved by Microsoft. Within a week, you’ll get an email indicating if you’re approved, along with login information to their nonprofit hub.
- Login to the nonprofit hub and choose the products that would help your organization be more secure, productive, and/or save you money. The Center takes advantage of the following:
- Microsoft 365 Business Premium (aka Microsoft Office): This includes the desktop app and web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Teams, plus desktop versions of Access and Publisher. You also get cloud-based email server (Exchange), document library (SharePoint), cloud backup (OneDrive), and .org control of mobile devices (Intune). You can get up to 10 free licenses, and then pay a discounted rate of $5.50/month for additional users. The Center assigned these licenses to core staff whose roles require heavy Office use.
- Microsoft 365 Business Basic: This includes web only versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams, plus SharePoint and OneDrive. You can get up to 300 free licenses. The Center assigns these to occasional staff Office users (interns, c-level executives, volunteers, board members, etc.), and important 3rd party contacts who need limited access to our SharePoint resources or to work with our Teams groups. These tools allow the Center to easily collaborate in real-time with staff, volunteers, or consultants, and meet face to face from anywhere, anytime.
Review all your M365 options and FAQs here.
- Azure: Azure is Microsoft’s cloud computing platform that offers a wide range of services, including advanced security, virtual servers, cloud storage, networking, and databases. You can get up to a $3,500 credit per year to use Azure services. The Center uses Azure Entra ID (formally Active Directory) to update our users’ info, roles, group memberships, passwords, etc. This drastically reduced our user access issues as login steps are the same regardless of where our staff is working from, what device they’re logging on to, and which Microsoft product they’re using. I love centralized, remote IT administration without having to go in to the office. We also use Azure for backup storage and are exploring web hosting options.
Sidebar: I have been doing IT for over 30 years and IMHO, moving resources like Windows Server, SQL Server, and Exchange to the cloud, where it’s protected by Microsoft’s world-class datacenters, will always be more secure then in your office server/rack equipment room, no matter how good your IT folks are. It also simplifies IT security and remote admin chores. The Center has scrapped our on-premises, legacy hybrid setup for what I call the “coffee shop” solution...where our users’ Microsoft experience is identical whether they are in the office, at home, or in a coffee shop in Paris.
- Microsoft Defender 365: Cyber security is a critical area that most smaller nonprofits don’t have the time or staff to deal with. Defender 365 gives you AI-based automatic antiphishing, antispam, antimalware, and ransomware protection for free. You can login to your Security Hub for a free Microsoft assessment of your vulnerabilities and recommendations to help secure your data. The Center bought one subscription of Microsoft Defender for Office 365 for $5/month, which added advanced admin threat protection, analysis, and tracking tools. My favorite is the “Attack Simulation Training” so you can catch and train your “quick clickers” before they click the wrong link. In addition, the Center makes sure all our workstations have Microsoft’s free “Windows Security” (aka “Defender”) running to automatically update and protect against relentless workstation threats.
- On-premises Solution (in your office): Microsoft offers a variety of software products, such as Windows Server, SQL Server, and Exchange Server that nonprofits can get discounts on. The Center previously used Windows Server, SQL Server, and AD Sync onsite before we successfully migrated to 100% cloud-based solutions.
- Order your products and services. From the nonprofit hub menu, select the “Product” you want to license, then select “Get Started”. Basically, you go to https://admin.microsoft.com to license and install Microsoft 365 products, and portal.azure.com to use Azure products.
- Check out the training. Microsoft offers beginner, intermediate, and advanced online and in-person training on Outlook, Excel, Word, Teams, SharePoint, Cyber Security, and much more.
Microsoft also offers an 8% discount on Surface tablets, and nonprofit discounts on other products like Dynamics 365, LinkedIn, and Power BI. The Center has no experience using them.
Finally, here are some bonus resources for taking advantage of Microsoft nonprofit discounts:
- Technical Support: Microsoft offers technical support to nonprofits through its online support portal and by phone. It’s best to initiate tech support directly from the nonprofit hub, M365 admin portal, or Azure portal.
- Partnerships: Microsoft works with a variety of certified partners to provide additional resources and support to nonprofits. These partners include nonprofit technology consultants, software developers, and hardware vendors. If you are a member of the Center (or join here), we have a money-saving partnership with Medicus IT (formerly MDcentric Technologies) that you can contact for guidance and IT support services.
- TechSoup.org is another partner of Microsoft and specializes in providing discounted hardware and software to nonprofits.
- Support for Black Communities: Microsoft’s Nonprofit Tech Acceleration (NTA) program is committed to increasing technology for U.S.-based nonprofits that support Black and African American communities. The NTA provides nonprofits with technology grants and technical consulting to help increase the impact of their missions.
A word of caution: Microsoft products, services, and processes are always changing. They do a good job of communicating changes and redirecting resource links, but if you prefer a simple “status-quo” IT environment then this may not be best for your organization.
Good luck taking advantage of Microsoft!
Paul Tronnier is technology director of the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits and manages the Center’s technology resources. He has 25+ years of IT solutions, strategy, and leadership experience, and prides himself on maximizing return on investment, accountability, and forward-thinking solutions. Prior to joining the Center in 2021, he founded Chief Web Officer for Hire and worked with a number of national nonprofits in optimizing their processes and services. Paul has a BS in business, marketing, and computer science from the University of Wisconsin.