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Winning at IT on a shoestring

  • Matt Moorut is the head of marketing for Technology Trust and volunteers at two local charities. He has written extensively on digital improvements in the charity sector and has been published in The Guardian newspaper and Charity Digital News among others.

    If you work for a small, local charity or community group, there’s a good chance IT won’t be the top item on your agenda.

    Sometimes you do need to set up an email address to reply to enquiries about your charity, or have the option to keep a database so you can monitor your impact, or have a website (and drive traffic to it) to reach more supporters and beneficiaries.

    The good news is that if you’re a charity, you can get a lot of the best stuff for free, or at least for next to nothing. Actually, there’s a charity plan for most software you’ll need.

    Self-promotion warning!

    It’s a little bit of a shameless plug (sorry), but seeing as it’s a plug for the charity I work for, which is there to help other charities with IT, hopefully you’ll excuse me – the first resource I’d recommend is the software donation programme we run, called tt-exchange.

    To be eligible for the programme, we’d just need you to supply a couple of details to prove you have HMRC charitable status. We can always help along the way if you get stuck with that.

    Once you’ve registered for the programme (which is free to do), we’ll look to see which of our tech partners’ donations you’re eligible for, which might be Microsoft, Adobe, Symantec or loads of others. To keep the programme going, we do charge a small admin fee per donation request – it’s usually only about 5% of the normal cost of the product though.

    Day-to-day essentials

    For the majority of small organisations, getting a server is a bad decision. Instead, you’re usually better off utilising cloud computing, which means no setup costs, easier maintenance, more flexible working and (importantly) no worries about someone breaking in and running off with your server!

    If you aren’t familiar with cloud computing, all it means is that rather than storing all of your files locally – whether that be for emails or your website or anything else – they’re stored and secured by someone else. An example would be if you have Gmail or Hotmail email account.

    It goes further than that these days though. For instance, if you want to create a Word document or Excel spreadsheet, you can also use cloud-based versions of those products through Office 365. Google offer something very similar called Google Apps. If you’re eligible for tt-exchange, you’ll be able to access entirely free versions of both. There’s a brilliant comparison of the two offerings here.

    Of course, if you like desktop-based versions better, you can always get a donated Office desktop licence from £21+VAT through tt-exchange, which is the cheapest legal version you’ll find.

    Some of the best offerings

    Even if you end up using Microsoft Office or Office 365 programmes, I’d recommend you sign up for Google for Nonprofits anyway, because you get loads of stuff for free, like $10,000 credit per month towards advertising your website on Google search, as well as other goodies like the ability to add ‘donate’ buttons to your YouTube videos.

    If you want to set up a website, I’d recommend either: a) visit the Transform Foundation, which offers grants and expertise to do so, or if that fails b) take up a GoDaddy discount through tt-exchange to host your site, and then build it using a free platform like WordPress.org (or find a friend who can help you to do that).

    I’d also recommend getting in touch with an organisation called CITA, as they offer free, 2-hour strategic consultations for charities, which might well be useful to you.

    If you want to send emails to your supporters or beneficiaries, the best options are MailChimp, which is free up to a point, or our own offering, tt-mail, which sadly always costs at least a little bit, but is cheaper and more flexible when you start growing.

    The hard part - hardware

    If you’re in need of hardware, that can be a bit trickier. Companies aren’t as inclined to give it away as they are with software, because software is essentially free, but hardware costs money for all the bits.

    If you can, I’d suggest it’ll be cheaper in the long run to get a new computer rather than a refurb, because refurbs become obsolete quicker.

    If you can’t make the budget stretch that far, you can find many of the best refurbishers for charities on Microsoft’s refurbisher directory. InKind Direct also offer discounted, refurbished hardware, which is worth investigating – you can check that out here.

    I hope that’s all useful! We regularly post advice and guidance on our own website, so join our newsletter or just peruse the articles if you’d like any charity-tech-specific nuggets.

     

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