National Council on Family Relations (NCFR)

"[NCFR] is now on the most up-to-date Exchange and SharePoint platforms available, professionally hosted and perpetually updated, with our data safely stored out in the cloud. That's a huge relief as a system administrator and a huge win for the organization"

— Jason Samuels, director of innovation and technology 

Tech Impact Helps Nonprofits Open a Door to the Cloud

Jason Samuels is the director of innovation and technology at the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) in Minneapolis. NCFR is a professional association for the multidisciplinary understanding of families. 

Its goal is to bring together theory and academic research in the field of family science with practitioners who are working directly with families. The organization has over 3,500 members, including academic researchers, educators, counselors, and marriage and family therapists.

Samuels is what nonprofits often refer to as an "accidental techie." He joined NCFR in 2005 as an administrative assistant and is now the organization's primary IT person, supporting 15 staff members. He manages the organization's website, databases, desktop support, social media, webinars, newsletter, IT network, training, and new program development, including integrating new information technology tools. Samuels describes his work as "developing tools at the intersection of programs and IT."

Opening a Door to the Cloud

As Samuels writes in his personal blog, he knew that NCFR was due for a major reinvestment in server hardware in 2015. To understand if moving some of the organization's core systems to the cloud would be a feasible alternative, he attended a free consultation with Tech Impact's Linda Widdop at the 2014 Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC). 

"After talking though the capabilities and getting a few questions answered, I left with little doubt that moving to Office 365 would be hugely beneficial for us," Samuels writes. He further describes the Office 365 Nonprofit donation program as "a game changer which opens a door to the cloud." 

Calculating the Savings

Samuels' first step in migrating to Office 365 was to put together a five-year budget projection. His budget projection showed that moving NCFR's Exchange and SharePoint servers to Office 365 would save several thousand dollars compared to the costs of software licenses and consulting help to implement platform upgrades. 

When he factored in hardware upgrade costs, he projected that the savings to his organization would be closer to $20,000. He decided to migrate his organization to Office 365. 

Using Tech Impact's Office 365 DIY Migration Workshop

Having already benefited from Tech Impact's expertise, Samuels then signed up for Tech Impact's Office 365 DIY Migration Workshop for Small Organizations, available through the TechSoup donation program. 

He says, "For just $300, this program provides a cohort group guided by expert help to assist you in a hands-on setup and migration process. It is a fantastic value, and I can't recommend it highly enough." Samuels found the entire Tech Impact Office 365 DIY Migration workshop entirely suitable for an accidental techie like himself. 

Samuels told TechSoup, "Tech Impact defined the process on how to go through a migration. They gave us a step-by-step process to follow that is tried and true and got me where I needed to go. Using their process rather than having to figure it out saved me tons of effort. Email is mission critical. It's too high stakes to have any trial and error." 

Making the Move to Office 365 

The migration method Samuels used was the "manual cutover migration" recommended by Tech Impact for a small organization such as NCFR. 

 On his blog, Samuels explains that this migration method was straightforward: "We didn't need to fiddle with synchronizing active directory or our on-premise Exchange server. Our setup was essentially just rebuilt from scratch in Office 365." 

 Samuels is thrilled with the results of moving to Office 365, writing that: "[NCFR] is now on the most up-to-date Exchange and SharePoint platforms available, professionally hosted and perpetually updated, with our data safely stored out in the cloud. That's a huge relief as a system administrator and a huge win for the organization." 

Advice to Other Accidental Techies

To make the most of the Tech Impact Office 365 DIY Migration Workshops, Samuels told TechSoup that you do need a certain amount of technical expertise: "You should be well versed in your network environment. You need to know what you're working with to pull off a successful migration. You need a degree of technical skill to handle problems that may come up, like in Active Directory." 

Samuels also found that his nonprofit's Office 365 migration entailed some challenges, for instance, end-user reluctance to learn about the new Office 365 system. Office 365 has applications that are new to most users, such as SharePoint, Lync, and two versions of OneDrive. 

Jason told me that he had to do orientations on using the new system early and often, for instance at staff meetings. 

This story originally appeared on the TechSoup Blog. It was written by Jim Lynch, director of green technology at TechSoup.