Google Docs and Charities

Given the challenging environment for charities, with ever more charities and reduced donations by donors, any charity must always be on the lookout for ways of improving efficiency.

Free is good

In consequence, any charity must look at any supports that are available to help them to do their work more effectively.  If the gift horse is free it’s very tempting to not check the teeth too carefully.  However any of these gift horses must be fed since it takes up the time of staff and volunteers.  You must always be careful to monitor the benefits received versus the human effort involved in achieving those benefits.

One of the most effective operational supports by far and on which Google is investing major effort is only now becoming more visible.  That’s Google Docs and many charities are finding it a real boon.

If It Ain’t Broke …

Adopting a new way of doing things involves change. It’s very natural reaction to wish to avoid change, particularly if something seems to be working fine.  Why take the risk that something may go wrong.  Even if the new approach will be slightly better, why invest all the effort in learning a new system.

In this case, the new approach is not just slightly better: it’s dramatically better.  Of course many of us have invested huge amounts of time and money to have Microsoft operating systems and Office programme suites sitting inside our computers.  In many cases we are skilled in using them to achieve remarkable results.  How can much simpler systems allow us to achieve those same remarkable results?

Even if you know this must be wrong, I encourage you to keep an open mind while you try the new approach.  Luckily you don’t have to go through some long training program to get up to speed.  You don’t need to read the instructions.  Just muddle through and you’ll surprise yourself.  Simpler can be better.

Google Docs is Cloud Computing

If you have not heard the term before, Google Docs is an example of Cloud Computing.   All that any user of such a system needs is a simple computer that has access to the Internet.  That can even be a smart phone like an iPhone.  All the hard work is done on servers owned by the provider of the Cloud Computing system.

If you find this somewhat daunting, then remember this same approach is being used in some of the most under-developed regions of the globe.  Cloud computing works well in India.  Farmers may use the cheapest of cell phones to check the best way of managing their crops through software that is installed on the central government computers.

Any review of what is happening in India will quickly show that we are dealing here with something that will dramatically change the way organizations operate. The article, How Cloud Computing is Changing Corporate Strategy, spells out the huge potential of this technology.

Cloud Computing is Software As A Service

Another term you may hear is Software As A Service, often shortened to SAAS.  No longer do you need to buy costly software and install this on your own hard drive in your laptop or desktop computer.  You connect via the Internet with a computer owned and operated by the SAAS provider which runs the software.  If there are any updates of the software, that is done automatically on those distant servers.  There is no additional cost to the user to be using the latest version at all times.  Any output files you create are held within your secure storage area on the SAAS provider’s server.

What Google Docs Offers

In effect Google Docs gives you an Open Source version of software equivalent to what you might normally buy under the brand name of Microsoft Office.  It allows you to handle documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, images, etc. and the capabilities of the software are growing all the time.

In addition, Google Docs can  hold all files created in what it calls collections, which are equivalent to folders.  There are excellent search facilities for all files in these collections, as you might expect.  You can also upload files if you wish.  This means that you can create on the storage space allotted to your Google account (up to 1 Gb for free) a repository of all the important files that you might normally have scattered around your computer hard disk.

The beauty of this is that you can access your Google Docs account and work on your files from any computer with a browser.  You are not limited to your own desktop or laptop computer.

When working on a file wherever you may be, the file is automatically and frequently saved as you make revisions.  This does not mean that you lose earlier versions of your file since the complete history of all revisions you (or your collaborators) have made is readily to hand.

Sharing Google Docs

There are several advantages in working in Google Docs, rather than working on files held on your own computer’s hard disk.  Here we will discuss the single most important of these: sharing files with collaborators.

Remember the traditional way of working on files where you wish to involve other collaborators.  You prepare a Word file or an Excel file and then send an e-mail with the Word or Excel file as an attachment to all your collaborators.  In rare cases, this may be designated as spam to certain recipients and their spam filters may mean they are unaware that a message and file was sent to them.  If the file is large and they are using Office Outlook or Outlook Express, then this may tie up their computer some time while the file is downloaded.

If all goes well, each collaborator must review what was sent and react without knowing what the other collaborators may be thinking. If each sends back their comments on what is proposed, then these must all be combined.  A combined file must then be resent to all collaborators.

The alternative approach with Google Docs is that you prepare a single file in Google Docs and you provide a web link to that single file in an e-mail message to all your collaborators.  The file can be any of the allowable formats including equivalent files to Word or Excel files.

Each collaborator can be given the right to edit it or to merely view the document.  If they have the right to edit, they can also just add a comment if they wish at some point in the document.  They could also add highlighting to a section of the document, where they feel further thought may be appropriate.

At any given point in time there is only one file ‘in play’.  If two collaborators open the file at the same time, then each will be aware of any amendments the other is doing as they occur.  Any other collaborator who comes along later will have the benefit of seeing what these suggested amendments are.

Next Steps

If this overview has whetted your appetite, then you may wish to read an upcoming article that describes in greater detail the advantages of using Google Docs.

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