How to help out a Canadian non-profit on a shoestring budget.

I've been trying to share my progress with helping out the Orléans Festival over the last few months, all the time saying to myself – I should really write one comprehensive page about all this.

Are you a developer? Do you live in Canada? Read more about why you should be helping a local non-profit.

After talking with a few people, I'm hoping that I can provide a list of services that developers can use to help out Canadian non-profits in their community.

tl;dr - Sign up for (at least):

All of this information is geared towards assising non-profits who have zero or no budget to spend on technology (like mine). For full disclosure, I have spent some of my own money on services (as a donation, because I think it's worth it) and have pointed that out where appropriate.

If you know what a CNAME record is, skip parts 1, 2 and possibly this entire post!

1. Domains

You must be master of your domain.

For an organization who doesn't have a domain name (e.g. orleansfestival.ca), go and register with a provider like EasyDNS. You might also want to register the French version (e.g. festivaldorleans.ca)

If the organization you're working with already has a domain/website, ensure that they also own the account where the domain name is registered. A simple way to verify this is to ask "when is our domain name scheduled for renewal?" — a blank look is not a good sign.

With a blank look, you can start digging for information. Your domain name needs to be renewed on a yearly basis (usually) and with Murphy's Law in full effect for technology, you know that the registration will expire one week before your event/fund drive/etc. Figure this out now sooner rather than later!

2. Identity

You need to either own or register your non-profits name with Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, etc.

Trust me. Do it now even if you don't intend to use it. Trying to "recover" a name later on is not fun.

At the very least, you can point these accounts to your domain name (registered in step 1).

3. Website Hosting

As we discussed earlier, "free" or "unlimited" web hosting may not be the best option for your site. If you're working with a non-profit that has one event per year and something goes wrong because your server neighbour is sending a million 419 Scams emails, your patrons will be less than pleased.

My research over the last few months (Oct 2013 - Jan 2014) indicates that Azure is probably the best bet given that you can host pretty much any platform (ASP.NET MVC, PHP, Node.js, etc.), storage prices at least match Amazon S3, and you can scale up or out whenever you need to.

4. Email

There is no question here - sign up for Office 365.

5. Document Storage

This one is a little bit tough. As I mentioned earlier, the best choice for total space (and privacy for Canadians) is definitely sync.com.

However, if you sign up for Office 365, you do get a ton (25GB) of free storage (via SkyDrive Pro/Sharepoint). And the online editors for Word/Excel are hard to beat. Unfortunately syncing a massive amount of documents can give you some pain. After that, all is well.

6. Version Control

If you haven't yet jumped on the Git bandwagon, then visualstudio.com is the answer for you. Anyone with a CVS, SVN, or Sourcesafe (gasp) background will feel right at home. Your projects are all private by default, and you don't need to submit any special paperwork to get extra priveleges. Also, the integration with Azure hosting is very cool. More details here.

Github is also very cool and does offer a great deal to non-profits. Just make sure that anyone helping you out down the road also knows Git...

7. Crowdfounding

As a non-profit, there is a surprising limit as to what is accessible vs a charity. Long story short, for a Canadian non-profit you probably want to use Causevox.

Go here for slightly more information.

8. CRM (Bonus)

Non-profits need to raise money every. single. year. I recently learned that they're only allowed to end each fiscal year with +/- $1000 unless there's proof that they are saving for something (e.g. a building).

You can imagine that fund-raising / sponsorship / grants are a huge things for non-profits. Unfortunately for Canadian ones, I haven't come across anything that's free.

  • Salesforce, regardless of what their webpage claims is NOT available to Canadian non-profits. I've asked them to update their wording.

  • SugarCRM doesn't seem to have any deals for non-profits.

What does that leave? The cheapest, again, is Microsoft's offering. You can get Dynamics (Basic) for $3.75 CAD/user.

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