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 =, 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.


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.