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A Cost-Cutting Technique Many Nonprofits Are Discovering

September 16, 2013

(Mike Pugh is vice president of marketing at j2 Global Inc., a Los Angeles-based provider of cloud-based communications services, including eFax®, eVoice®, and Campaigner®.)

Headshot_mike_pughIf the public has a preconception about nonprofits these days, it's that they are engaged in a constant struggle to raise funds. That's half right, of course. But we rarely consider the other, equally difficult struggle: managing costs.

With the decline in government grants and increased competition for private donations, you're probably chasing the same sources of funding as other nonprofits. This post offers no secrets or tricks for beating others to those dollars. Instead, I'd like focus on the other side of your ledger -- keeping your costs down while remaining productive and even boosting your team's productivity.

One great cost-cutting technique that many nonprofits have discovered is the use of "cloud communications" -- lower-cost online alternatives to many of the legacy technologies they're already using (and probably overpaying for). Examples of these next-gen tools include online fax services, virtual phone systems, online videoconferencing, Web-based collaboration, and online customer resource management (CRM).

In fact, these days there's very little your organization can't accomplish online -- or "in the cloud" -- while maintaining a professional image and saving money.

Here are a few ideas for using cloud services that will help your nonprofit get more done with less.

Move your fax service to the cloud. If you're still maintaining physical fax machines or fax servers in your office, one way you can cut costs significantly without losing functionality is by switching to a cloud-based service. Analog fax lines, ink, maintenance, repairs -- all these costs add up and still leave you subject to the hassle of standing by a fax machine waiting for a document, or repeatedly having to redial a busy fax number.

By contrast, a cloud-based fax service lets you fax by e-mail anywhere you have an Internet connection -- even from your mobile phone. Here's how it works: Each member of your staff receives a unique number they can use for faxing, just as they would for sending or receiving an e-mail message. You can even keep your old numbers, eliminating the need to send out notices saying your fax numbers have changed or having to update your organization's stationery. Cool, right?

What's more, an online fax solution costs much less than analog services -- no more buying ink or fax paper or paying those high phone-company charges for fax numbers.

Move your phone service to the cloud. If your nonprofit maintains landline phones, that's another cost you can easily cut by moving your service to the cloud -- and at the same time actually add sophisticated features you probably don't have access to under your current plan.

A good virtual phone solution will cost far less than a traditional business phone plan -- and can include such features as professionally recorded greetings, toll-free numbers, and advanced call routing. Professional greetings and phone menus with multiple extensions ("Dial 204 for New Partnerships, dial 205 for Media Relations…") will help you present a polished image to donors, partners, and the public alike. And for busy staff, you can opt for great features like voicemail-to-email, which lets them "read" their voicemail when they're in a meeting or at an event and can't take the call.

Because cloud-based features like advanced call routing allow remote workers to integrate seamlessly into your team, you can even use a virtual phone service to recruit top talent to your organization regardless of where they are located.

Use cloud-based CRM to boost fundraising. Okay, here's one secret to help you raise money. A clever fundraising technique nonprofits are discovering is the use of cloud-based marketing tools to help improve the quality and relevance -- while boosting return on investment -- of their donor e-mails. With the right online e-mail service, your nonprofit can create highly targeted, professionally designed messages for just the right subset of your donors and then monitor exactly what each recipient does with each message -- did they open it? when? how many times? what did they click on? – critical information that can be used to continually refine and improve your future communications.

The solutions and tools are there for the taking and can transform the operations of nonprofits that, on a daily basis, are being asked to do more with less. Whether you're a COO, a CIO, or the head of institutional advancement/development, cloud-based technology might just be the answer you've been looking for. Maybe it's time to take a closer look.

-- Mike Pugh

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