jedidja.ca

There's always something new to learn today

Master of your (non-profit's) domain

When I first started volunteering with the Orléans Festival, we were lucky enough to have free web hosting by a local company. There was "unlimited" disk space and bandwidth on a shared Linux box.

Why move?

As I discovered while registering us for Office 365, there are only so many DNS records you can manipulate through cPanel. Since some records require going through the DNS hosting website and our provider held our registration along with his other customers, there was a bit of a bottleneck and unnecessary layer of red tape.

Personally I think every entity should be in control of as much of as its assets as possible. One of my original goals was to get everything tech-related into a "proper" state so that anyone could take over in future years. Controlling your own registration and DNS is definitely part of that.

After all, you never know what could go wrong. Perhaps there's a disagreement and all of a sudden your nameserver registration mysteriously vanishes. Perhaps the company is sold and the new owners forget to renew your domain. Perhaps you're switching over to Office 365 and realize that you cannot set the SRV records for Lync yourself. anyway...

The Process

Moving domains with .ca is fairly straightfoward. You need whoever currently registers the domain to unlock it and then provide you with the transfer code. After that, you follow the instructions provided by your new DNS hosting service.
easyDNS

I chose to move us to easyDNS, for the simple reason that I and my friends have used them for years without a single issue. And they're Canadian! There may well be places cheaper than $15/year but I wonder if they have as good a track record. (My second choice would be dnsimple.com)

Key Records

It's important you make note of all the existing records at your current host/registrar. Here are the ones you definitely want to check:

  • MX (for Mail)
  • A (for your website)
  • CNAME (usually to redirect www.mydomain.ca to mydomain.ca)

Join a community of like-minded developers who want to help Canadian non-profits.

Office 365 for Nonprofits

Although this has nothing directly to do with TechSoup Canada, I did stumble across the link through their website first — and was I ever glad I did.

Everyone's situation is different and this post assumes that the individuals volunteering in your organization already have experience using Microsoft Office. Once we assume that, signing up for Office 365 for Nonprofits is a no-brainer.

What is Office 365?

I'm not sure there's a good answer for this yet. The information for Canada is a little tough to find, so here is the main page as well as the comparison chart. In my opinion (especially given my department's current lack of funds), it is:

  • E-mail. You can use your own custom domain (for free) if you have one. Imagine having an Exchange server without worrying about managing it :)
  • Document storage. I am probably the world's least fan of SharePoint (more on this later), but it does provide storage. More importantly, it also allows for ...
  • Document editing. The web version of Word, Excel, and OneNote are streamlined enough to provide 80% of anything the majority of users need.
  • Collaboration. There are enough plugins to the hosted version of SharePoint (e.g. task management) plus OneNote to deal with many common tasks and scheduling.
  • Free Support. (Still true as of Dec 2013) I have been amazed with the level of support offered for the completely free Office 365 E1 for Nonprofits. After having submitted at least one request per month since October, all been answered by email + follow-up phone calls within 24-48 hours and the support staff have ensured that my problems are completely resolved.

How do you apply?

The application itself is simple enough, but actually completing the entire process to get E1 for Nonprofits (now possibly E2) status can be slightly unnverving. (This post is accurate as of Dec 2013)

As the plans page says:

  1. Sign up for a trial. Explore the features and benefits of Office 365 for up to 25 users (Office 365 Enterprise E3 for Nonprofits).
  2. Verify eligibility. At any time during the trial you can have Microsoft verify your domain’s eligibility for nonprofit prices.
  3. Start using the service. Qualified organizations can receive Office 365 Enterprise E1 for Nonprofits as a donation and upgrade for additional services. Once validated as an eligible organization, you will have the ability to transition from the trial offer to a donated offer.

Simple enough? Apply for E3 (which costs $5.20/user/month) and make sure you verify your eligibility within that month and get moved over to E1/E2 (which are free).

What happened with us?

  • We signed up for E3 and immediately submitted our paperwork to qualify for E1 through Office 365 service request mail.
  • Within a couple days, we had a request from TechSoup Canada to verify our contact information. It appears that Microsoft uses TechSoup to help them with this process.
  • We sent an e-mail address and phone number and TechSoup confirmed they had it.

2.5 weeks passed... (keep in mind you only get 30 days to qualify for E1 before you are charged for E3)

  • I emailed TechSoup to follow up with them re my contact information.
  • Meanwhile, Office 365 was still showing my service request as "Verify that this domain belongs to an eligible nonprofit institution. Microsoft Tenant Domain = OrleansFestival.onmicrosoft.com, Tenant website URL =" even though I had supplied the required information.
  • I also submitted my first helpdesk request to Office 365

In the final week before E3 expired...

  • I got responses back from both Office 365 and TechSoup Canada. There had been some mixups with my information but both sides worked to sort it out really quickly once I pointed out the problem. It seems out info got stuck in the system and no one realized it.
  • I got an email confirming we were officially approved for E1 status.

On (or one day before) E3 was due to expire...

  • I logged into the Office 365 admin section and noticed there was absolutely no mention of our E1 status.
  • I contacted Office 365 again and within 2 hours had a phone call from a very helpful agent who showed me how to enable our new subscription.

During the next 30 days....

  • Even though we were officially on E1, it appears there is still a grace period after the E3 expiration date. As a result, I started getting worrisome message about our license about to expire and data being deleted.
  • I contacted Office 365 once more, and again was quickly re-assured that these messages didn't really apply to us given that we were on E1.

Conclusion

Having used Office 365 for a while now, I'm mostly happy with it (more on this later) and it's definitely worth signing up for. There were a few tense moments during the process, but both helpdesks involved were extremely pleasant to deal with.


Join a community of like-minded developers who want to help Canadian non-profits.

Microsoft on TechSoup Canada

Although you can get Adobe, Intuit, Shopify, and a bunch of other companies' software for discounted prices through your initial registration at TechSoup Canada, Microsoft is a bit different in that you have to fill out another application form.

What's special about Microsoft?

This seemed really odd to me until I looked at what you actually get from Microsoft. At the time of this post, there are over 140 heavily-discounted SKUs. Such as? Let's see:

  • Office 2013 Standard ($26) or Professional ($35)
  • Windows 8.1 Upgrade ($13) from
    • Windows 7 Enterprise, Professional, or Ultimate
    • Windows Vista Enterprise, Business, or Ultimate
    • Windows XP Professional or Tablet PC Windows 2000 Professional
    • Windows NT Workstation 4.0
    • Windows 98 SE
  • Windows Server CAL ($3)
  • SQL Server 2012 Standard ($58)

It's kinda crazy. And I'm glad they added some extra restrictions to which organizations they give these discounts to compared to TechSoup Canada.

What are the restrictions?

To be honest, there's nothing surprising here. I'm not sure who exactly would be eligible for TechSoup Canada and not for this, but I would hope the list is is pretty small.

From the current page as of Oct 2013, a list of non-eligible organizations:

  • Governmental organizations or agencies.
  • Educational institutions, including K-12 schools, colleges, universities, and trade schools. (Education is already taken care of under a different Microsoft program)
  • Healthcare organizations and networks, including hospitals, specialty networks, ambulatory healthcare services, home healthcare and assisted living healthcare organizations, research organizations, and laboratories. (All for-profit businesses, I believe)
  • Political, labor, and fraternal organizations; commerce and trade associations without charitable aims or activities that benefit non-members; sponsorships of events, tables, exhibitions, or performances; fundraising events such as luncheons, dinners, walks, runs, or sports tournaments. (Self-explanatory)
  • Refurbishers that will be installing the donated software on refurbished computers to be distributed or donated to nonprofits or schools. Please visit the Registered Refurbisher Program. (Self-explanatory)
  • Nonpublic libraries, including private libraries, school libraries, specialty libraries, armed forces libraries, and libraries in government agencies. (Self-explanatory)
  • Organizations that engage in discrimination in hiring, compensation, access to training or services, promotion, termination, and/or retirement based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, disability, gender identity or expression, marital status, pregnancy, sexual orientation, political affiliation, union membership, or veteran status, other than as allowed by law, are not eligible to participate in this program. Organizations must be willing and able to attest that they do not discriminate on any of these grounds in order to receive donations. (Very Self-explanatory)

For more details, visit an Overview Of The Microsoft Donation Program.


Join a community of like-minded developers who want to help Canadian non-profits.

Registering for TechSoup Canada

TechSoup Canada

It sounds like my department's budget for the Festival is pretty slim ($0?), but in case we do have some money and require software, it looks like there are some great deals available through TechSoup Canada.

What kind of deals, might you ask? As a non-profit or charity, you could get:

Quite the savings! The available offers do change on a somewhat regular basis and each have different restrictions/qualifications so it's worth reading the fine print.

Registration Process

Signing up for TechSoup Canada is very simple and straightforward. There's some data (as of Oct 2013) you will need to prepare in advance:

  • Basic organization information including mailing address and contact information
  • Annual budget
  • Number of computers available
  • Type (i.e. non-profit or charity)
  • Registration number (very important!)
  • Copies of your official documents (for an Ontario non-profit, we emailed scanned copies of Ontario Letters Patent and Business Number docs after filling out the registration form)

Resources

Apart from providing access to some awesome deals on software, TechSoup Canada also has many blogs, articles and webinars.

If you are lucky enough to be near Toronto, you can also attend one of their many events.

In short, if you are working with a Canadian non-profit or charity, it's worth signing up with TechSoup Canada. For our American friends south of the border, 501(c)(3) non-profits get access to even more stuff with techsoup.org.

Update (05 Nov 2013) - after dealing with TechSoup support on a couple issues regarding Microsoft, I can honestly say they are one of the most helpful groups I've dealt with.


Join a community of like-minded developers who want to help Canadian non-profits.

Volunteering with the Orléans Festival

After passing a two-hour interview, I've officially joined the Orléans Festival as "Director of Social Media" :) There are undoubtedly other people on the team who will have a better handle on messaging/marketing and I can contribute a strong techincal presence in terms of analytics, proper web design and maybe mobile apps.

Last year, Lisa and I attended (briefly) and were a bit disappointed. All we saw were some people selling arts/crafts, a few food stands with orange juice/coffee/hot dogs and a bouncy castle area for the kids. It turns out there were actually many more events taking place — but somehow we missed that. Even discovering the Festival existed was a total fluke from walking by a few signs near the YMCA earlier that week.

So we are really looking forward to helping out :) We like the idea of a strong, vibrant community and given how well the Shenkman is doing, Orléans could could really be the arts centre of Ottawa/Gatineau and surrounding area.

After a quick scan through the current situation, a few of my goals for this year (in order of importance) are:

  1. Create a structured solution for document storage, email accounts, website code, etc so that anyone can take over/expand in future years without having to wait for external resources.
  2. Make the website responsive/adpative and easier to maintain (specifically the bilingual requirement).
  3. Collect analytics as a baseline for future years. Who is visiting our website and via what medium? Are Facebook and Twitter helping us?

I thoroughly enjoyed my previous volunteer experience creating a customized database solution for Teenage Care between 2005-2008 and look forward to this being equally fulfilling!

Join a community of like-minded developers who want to help Canadian non-profits.