Last month, NTEN published their The State of the Nonprofit Cloud report. They found that 91% of the 780 nonprofits they surveyed (in the fall of 2011) were using some kind of cloud-based software solution.
What is a “Cloud” System or Solution?
But NTEN’s research also “revealed that many [of the nonprofits surveyed] didn’t even realize those systems could be considered hosted, or “cloud,” solutions.” So before we offer an overview of NTEN’s research findings, let’s clarify what the term “cloud” means. To quote the NTEN report:
The term “cloud” came into common use around 2007, but the similar concepts of hosted software or Application Service Provider (ASP) software have been around much longer. ...for our purposes ...in general, any software accessed over the Internet can be considered cloud software, including everything from facebook to broadcast email tools ...to online accounting systems and constituent databases.
What Cloud Solutions are Non-profits Using?
This graph below from the NTEN report illustrates the type of software that non-profits are using "in the cloud." As you can see, it includes everything from email, to accounting to constituent databases.
The Advantages of the Non-profit Cloud
The NTEN report notes that “when asked about the cloud, interviewees often thought first of constituent databases” with “about 40 percent of survey respondents” acknowledging that they “use a cloud option in this area.”
Here are some of the advantages of “Cloud” solutions noted in the report:
- “remote access” (cited by more than 42% of respondents)
“Because you can access cloud software through a browser, it has the distinct advantage of portability---you can use it anywhere you have an Internet connection....several interviewees cited remote access as an advantage that had a positive impact on their organization’s mission.”
- “ease of or reduced maintenance” (cited by nearly 24% of respondents)
“Another frequently mentioned benefit of the cloud for nonprofits is that it shifts the burden of maintenance to the vendor. Traditional installed software can require a great deal of maintenance ... updates, security patches and even data storage can be expensive and time-consuming--- especially for small organizations with no IT staff.”
“...All of the experts we interviewed saw reduced infrastructure maintenance as a key benefit of the cloud. As one expert put it, the cloud enables organizations to spend “less time wrestling with software, more delivering mission.”
- modern features and interface:
“Newer cloud-based systems leverage improvements in the ability of web browsers to display information, often surpassing their installed counterparts in look-and-feel and flexibility. The ease of generating web forms means browser-based software can provide different users with customized interfaces.”
Choice also based on “feature-set, ease of use and cost over time”
The NTEN report also notes that “many organizations simply choose software that will work for them based on the feature-set, ease of use and cost over time; the fact that it was cloud-based either didn’t factor into their decision, or it was secondary.”
At Wild Apricot, we’d certainly agree that these are important considerations, in fact they are included on our “List of the 6 most important considerations (outside of actual system functionality)” in the “Membership Software Selection Guide” that we created to help organizations through the software selection process - along with support/service and security.
Security In the Cloud
We included security on our list above, and it was also discussed in the NTEN report. But while some of respondents noted vague concerns about online security, the report notes that: "The experts [they] interviewed agreed that nonprofits’ fears about unauthorized access were generally unwarranted, and cloud solutions are typically no less secure than any other computer connected to the internet."
Cost as a factor in choosing the cloud
Of course, cost is always a factor, especially for non-profits with limited resources. The report found that “39 percent cited total cost over time as an important decision making factor.” But since the survey was looking at a wide variety of cloud solutions - from email to accounting to constituent databases - pricing plan types would vary from cost-per-user to yearly subscription fees. What is important to note is that the key difference between “cloud” solutions and off-the-shelf software, as one of the respondent quotes aptly notes, is that: “installed software is a ‘pay it once-and-done’, [but] often the cloudbased software is a subscription type of service.” I guess you could think of off-the-shelf software as a car you buy and may need to fix or “upgrade” quite often, while “cloud” solutions are like “leased” cars where the upgrades and maintenance are part of the annual or monthly service fee.
The Benefits of Membership Management in the Cloud
While the report doesn’t specifically refer to hosted applications such as Membership or Association Management Systems (AMS) (such as Wild Apricot’s Membership Management software), one of the survey respondent call-out quotes illustrates the advantages of cloud membership solutions:
“Our new online membership management system helps us keep better track of our members. …There’s been significant savings in staff time [and] it’s easier for members to update their own information, register for events and pay fees.”
Want to read the NTEN report?
If your non-profit isn't "in the cloud" yet and you want to find out more about the "State of the Nonprofit Cloud" - visit NTEN here to download the report.