Recently, we had a chance to talk with Heather Pierce, outgoing Director of Marketing and Communications of the South Carolina chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and her successor, Megan Harding. We asked them about the organization’s move to Microsoft Office 365 and here’s what they had to say:
Office 365: Tell me more about the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Megan: The Make-A-Wish Foundation is the largest wish-granting organization in the United States. From the time the organization was founded in 1980, our mission has always been to help fulfill the wishes of children and young adults with life-threatening medical conditions. The South Carolina chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation is based in Greenville and we also have an office in Charleston. We have eight employees and more than 200 active volunteers. Our organization has never turned down a medically eligible child in South Carolina, and this year we will grant a total of 142 wishes-the largest number in our chapter’s history.
Office 365: Can you describe some of the problems you experienced with your previous IT environment that made it difficult to fulfill your organization’s mission?
Heather: First, we didn’t have a single, integrated set of tools. We used one service for email and another for sharing files that were too large for email. And we didn’t have a way to collaborate online. Plus, the services we used weren’t always reliable. In general, we were spending too much time managing and troubleshooting technology instead of focusing on helping turn kids’ wishes into reality.
Office 365: What was the biggest communication difficulty that your organization faced before making the move to Office 365?
Heather: Having separate offices a few hundred miles apart and needing to share large files was a major headache for the organization before we moved to Office 365. Our mission is to grant “Wishes” to sick children, and we try to make the process as seamless as possible for the children and families we serve. If our two offices can’t communicate easily, then it is harder to do our job and make these wishes come true.
Office 365: How did you handle file sharing and communication before the move?
Heather: At first, we did it the old-fashioned way: we faxed a child’s “Wish” application between our different offices, which was cumbersome and time-consuming. Then, we started scanning the paperwork and using email to transfer the files. But the email service we were using had a mailbox size limit, so we had to keep emptying our inboxes to make room. If we didn’t manually clean out our inboxes, the server would get overloaded and we wouldn’t be able to send or receive mail. This happened once right at the tail end of a major fundraising project. It was extremely frustrating.
Office 365: Make-A-Wish employees and volunteers need to share really large files. How did you share files that were too large for email?
Heather: We used Dropbox for that. It wasn’t the most intuitive tool, and it didn’t provide any collaboration features-just cloud storage. Also, because we need to protect sensitive personal information, we were concerned about data security. Between email that didn’t always work, data-privacy concerns, and having to rely on a patchwork of services from different vendors, I knew there had to be a better way.
Office 365: How did you find Office 365?
Heather: One of our interns had a connection to PTG, a Microsoft partner based in Greenville. They met with us several times to learn about our operations and to show us how Office 365 could meet our needs. It was clear that they wanted to help us find a solution that fit our needs and our budget. And they ultimately helped us secure discounted pricing based on our nonprofit status. What makes it even more cost-effective for us as a nonprofit is that we’re able to defer more than $30,000 in capital expenses. By moving to Office 365, we can manage IT as a monthly operating expense, instead of having to finance the purchase of on-site infrastructure, let alone the cost to maintain it.
Office 365: So now that you’ve been using Office 365 for a while, what do you like most about it?
Heather: The fact that we get email, collaboration, and unified communications tools through a single subscription is fantastic. And it’s reassuring to know that our data is hosted and automatically backed up in a Microsoft data center. We love the email, calendaring, and contact management capabilities delivered through Exchange Online, plus the 25 gigabytes of storage capacity we have for each account.
And SharePoint Online helps us coordinate better as a team. Everybody has access to the same information, so we’ve been able to improve the consistency of our marketing and the success of our fundraising. Let me give you a great example: our development manager no longer has to spend time searching through email or asking colleagues to help her find the latest fundraising appeal letter or sponsorship packet because she can find the current version of all our marketing materials on SharePoint. It lets her devote more time to development outreach. And since we started using Office 365, she’s increased the number of school partners we work with across the state from 70 to almost 200, which translates into about $200,000 in additional donations.
Megan: I’m still fairly new to Make-A-Wish, but I used Office 365 extensively in my previous job at a large corporation. I love being able to collaborate on documents from anywhere and use Lync Online to schedule meetings or catch up with colleagues on IM. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a nonprofit like Make-A-Wish was taking advantage of the same technology that I used at a much larger organization.
Office 365: What other benefits are you looking forward to experiencing from your use of Office 365?
Megan: Obviously, I was drawn to the mission of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. But I have to say that the organization’s use of Office 365 was definitely a selling point. I know from experience that Office 365 just works, so I can focus on being more present to the children and the families we serve to help make each of their wishes come true.