Office 365 Nonprofit – a proposed online service for PATCH

The proposed move to Office 365 will give us the tools we need to communicate effectively online, work collaboratively and keep a record of our policies and procedures. But what is Office 365 and what does it mean for you?

What is Office 365 and what are the benefits?

Office 365 is a collection of Microsoft products that can be accessed online. For PATCH as an organisation, this will make the following services available:

  • enterprise class email;
  • shared calendars; and
  • spaces online for uploading, sharing and collaborating on documents.

Office 365 Nonprofit can offer much more than that, but I believe these three services represent PATCH’s most pressing requirements.

Office 365 Nonprofit is offered to non-profit organisations for free. We may decide to upgrade to a heavily discounted paid offering, but the benefits of this are yet to be analysed.

For more about the benefits of using Office 365, see Office 365 Nonprofit – Microsoft Software Donations.

Why Office 365 Nonprofit?

To address the need for effective email, calendars and online document management, I researched and in some cases, tested, a wide variety of solutions. Some of these solutions, with comments, are given below.


Igloo is so simple and easy-to-use that it remained my primary choice for a while. I even went so far as to start working with it and gave access to a limited number of PATCH members in order to try it out.

Reasons why it is no longer being considered:

  • The company behind Igloo stores our data on our behalf. While they can be considered as reliable, it is more comforting to know that a large organisation such as Microsoft is storing our data.
  • Office 365 provides an enterprise class email service. Igloo doesn’t.
  • Igloo only remains free for up to 10 users. The number of users in Office 365 is unlimited. This gives PATCH room to grow.


HumHub is another solution that I installed and tested. It places a focus on the social aspect of working together, and as soon as you login, you can see the discussions taking place.

Reasons why it is no longer being considered:

  • HumHub needs to be installed and run by PATCH. This gives the advantage that PATCH holds all of its own data, but places a firm responsibility on me as the Web Manager to keep that data safe. I would rather trust the safety assurances of Microsoft than trust those of one PATCH member!
  • Office 365 provides an enterprise class email service. HumHub doesn’t.
  • HumHub is too focused on the social aspect of working together. We can store files there, but HumHub is more suited as an additional service for organisations that want to encourage online discussions – not as an intranet solution.

Google for Nonprofits

This is the most compelling alternative. It includes everything we need – enterprise class email, calendars, document collaboration…etc. It even includes huge advantages over Office 365 such as Google Ad Grants, which if we apply and are eligible, allow us to advertise PATCH on Google for free.

Reasons why it is no longer being considered:

  • Despite offering a fantastic email service, I have judged that it is simply more difficult to use than Office 365.
  • We can still apply for some of the outstanding benefits offered by Google for Nonprofits, and maintain our Office 365 presence.
  • Compatibility: Microsoft Office documents are the most common form of Office documents. I want to avoid the scenario where a PATCH member opens a complex Excel spreadsheet in Google for Nonprofits, and finds it doesn’t work properly as expected.

As a side note, we must be appreciative to Google for creating Google for Nonprofits and spurring Microsoft to do something similar. Google offered amazing services to nonprofits first, and then Microsoft followed suit – probably inspired by Google!

How is the move to Office 365 going to work?

Office 365 has great potential to improve the way we work together. However, I recommend introducing elements of Office 365 step-by-step.

This will enable us to:

  • get used to Office 365 before investigating more advanced features;
  • allow a base level of functionality to be introduced; and
  • allow us time to customise the experience for each PATCH member.

As a result, Office 365 will be introduced in stages.

Following is a proposed integration process divided into three stages, with details for each of the stages.

Stage 1 – Email and calendars (applies to all PATCH members)

  • All email is moved to Office 365. PATCH members are guided on how to access and use their email.
  • A shared calendar is setup. A shared calendar will enable all PATCH members to conveniently check and update PATCH events such as Board meetings, fundraising events and visits to other organisations.

How will this happen?

This is the most important change and will apply to everyone at PATCH. All PATCH members will benefit from the ability to use their <name> email account for PATCH related business.

This will help us overcome issues caused by using personal emails for PATCH business. While convenient, the use of personal email addresses:

  • makes it difficult to keep track of emails related to PATCH business only;
  • makes it almost impossible to implement a calendar solution; and
  • is less professional when emailing people external to the organisation.

With Office 365, we can implement an enterprise class email system and keep all of our PATCH related communications in one place.

All PATCH members will receive instructions on how to access their email using Outlook online. This will be as simple as going to a link, and logging in with a username and password.

This means that, just like users of Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail…etc, you may login to your PATCH email account and send and receive emails anytime, anywhere.

None of your email communications so far will be lost – they will all be transferred into Outlook online.

To make life easier, you can also install Outlook on a range of devices in order to make it easier to manage your emails. This is a convenience and will not be required. For example, benefits may include not requiring a login, receiving notifications on your phone/tablet/computer of new emails, an easier interface…etc.

Where desirable, PATCH members can be assisted in setting up convenient ways of accessing their email on an individual basis.

Finally, a shared calendar will be offered which will be integrated with your email. Details will be received by email, and should be as easy as clicking a link to get it setup.

Stage 2 – Online spaces for working collaboratively (applies to most PATCH members)

  • An internal site is created for the team. This internal site is a central space for PATCH members to collaborate on task lists, documents and discuss online.
  • Sub-sites are created for specific teams, projects, tasks and sets of documents. Helping to keep our content organised, this will include sub-sites for:
    • sensitive work that only directors of PATCH should see;
    • policies and processes;
    • funding proposals; and
    • individual projects.
  • Training is given, including training and advice on an individual basis. This will help PATCH members to discover the most effective ways of collaborating on documents, acquire any additional tools they need and learn how to work with content online.

How will this happen?

Whereas stage 1 requires engagement from all PATCH members, stages 2 and 3 may be introduced more gradually and may not apply to all PATCH members.

PATCH members that express an interest in working collaboratively on documents online can be introduced to the PATCH internal site early, but other members may wish to wait until the internal site is demonstrated at the next available opportunity (e.g. the next Board meeting).

Training will be organised where all PATCH members will have the opportunity to optimise their computers/devices for working online and learn about how to use the internal sites.

Stage 3 – Introduce advanced features based on specific requirements (applies to small groups of PATCH members or individual members)

Office 365 has great potential. However, some of the more advanced features will not be relevant to everyone.

Once we have started working with Office 365, we can work together to find other ways in which it can assist us. Examples include:

  • Implementing a workflow for assessing funding applications, with recorded interactions and sign-offs from Board members.
  • Using project management tools to help us keep track of larger projects.
  • Moving certain key spreadsheet data to a fully featured database.

How will this happen?

Small groups of PATCH members/individual PATCH members will be consulted after Office 365 has been in use for a certain period of time. These consultations will be used to demonstrate new ways of working that can make PATCH processes easier to manage.

How can I help?

By completing a short survey, you can assist in the decision-making process for Office 365.