Free essential software guide for nonprofits: Essential productivity tools

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Nonprofits are always stretched for resources, whether financial, time, or having enough volunteers to help them achieve their goals. Software has had a major impact on productivity over the last few decades and when used to its full potential it can enable nonprofits to do more with their limited resources. Selecting the right software tools can provide a strategic advantage to nonprofit organizations, enabling their teams to do more and focus their energies on the biggest growth opportunities.

We are living in an amazing time where access to top software products are no longer limited to the domain of large for-profit companies. The freemium software model has opened up the availability of these solutions to organizations of any size, in many cases the core functionality of these solutions are available for free. With the abundance of options available in every software category, selecting the right tool itself can be a time-consuming process.

To help speed up the software selection process for nonprofits, we will cover the essential software tools available to nonprofits in a three-part series. In this article, part one of the series, we will cover the essential productivity tools, namely email, document creation and storage. In part two, we will cover the essential marketing tools including websites, email marketing, and social media tools. In part three, we will focus on essential back office tools for contact management, finance, payment, and communication tools. All of the tools covered will be some of the top tools in their category, easy to use, and free.

Keeping teams productive and connected has always been the core value of software. When running a nonprofit or any organization, work is synonymous with sending emails, creating and sharing documents, and collaborating with our colleagues. In this essential productivity tools article, we will cover the top free tools in each of these categories.

Productivity Suite

A productivity suite is the core set of applications that any organization uses to complete day-to-day work. From sending emails to writing documents, from calculating spreadsheets to creating presentations, and finally, in sharing all these artifacts with others, productivity suites are the staple toolset that modern work is built around.

When it comes to productivity suites, nonprofit organizations don’t have to compromise as both industry leading solutions are available to nonprofits with all their essential functionality for free. The two major providers of email solutions are G Suite by Google and Office by Microsoft. To acquire access to the free subscription tier for these products, nonprofits have to verify their status.

G Suite

G Suite is a collection of products offered by Google for businesses. Its key products include Gmail for sending emails, Calendar for planning meetings, Docs for creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, and Drive for storing your files. All of the tools are hosted in the cloud and can be accessed through a web browser. There are also tablet and mobile apps for the products that can be downloaded for Android and iOS devices.

Key considerations:

  • The ability to have multiple people collaborate on the same document is the most loved feature for G Suite
  • GMail is one of the most popular mail clients and many people are already familiar with it
  • G Suite has been the popular choice for new businesses and small to medium companies, but more recently, bigger enterprises are switching to G Suite
  • The document creation has all of the essential editing functionality needed, but can lack some of the more advanced functions that power users are used to
  • Formatting documents can be challenging at times and imported documents can lose their advanced formatting when imported from other popular applications

You can gain access to Google’s G Suite for nonprofits here.


Microsoft Office is the standard business tool used by many organizations. It used to come with a hefty price tag, but with the dawn of cloud hosted applications and the freemium model, it has become increasingly more accessible to any organization. The Microsoft Office suite includes Outlook for sending emails with integrated calendar functionality and OneDrive for storage. Microsoft offers web versions of their popular products for free to nonprofits including: Word for document creation, Excel for spreadsheets, and PowerPoint for presentations. There are also mobile and tablet versions of these products available on Android and iOS devices.

Key considerations:

  • Office is the widely used standard for creating documents, and you will receive Office created documents from other organizations and need to be able to properly view them
  • Many users are familiar with using the Office suite of products and will find themselves at home with the online version of Office
  • Many business users are familiar with using Outlook for email and the new version blurs the lines between the desktop and web version of the product
  • The online version of Office lacks the more advanced functionality that expert users are accustomed too, so they might it find it limiting
  • The document collaboration functionality of the online Office suite can breakdown at times and is not a seamless experience

You can gain access to Microsoft Office for nonprofits here.


Record keeping is critical to a nonprofit’s operations due to the regulatory obligations they have. Beyond the regulatory needs, having a secure and accessible location to store an organization's digital files and documents can save it a lot of headaches down the line. Both solutions mentioned above have storage products, namely Google Drive and MS OneDrive, as part of their suite; however, there are other options available focused solely on storage that can offer additional benefits to an organization. Having your files backed up in multiple locations is good practice and reduces the risk associated with file loss.

Modern digital file storage solutions have some key valuable features. These solutions are hosted in the cloud, meaning all of the files that are added to their directory are copied to a server outside your physical computer. Having the files stored in the cloud solves a number of problems. First, it is backed up online, meaning if your physical device is damaged you don’t lose your valuable files. Second, you can access your files from other devices by simply logging into the service from another device. These services take care of syncing your files between devices to make sure the latest version is available and backed up online as long as you have connectivity on your device.


Dropbox is a popular cloud storage solution used by many individuals as well as organizations. They are considered the pioneer in the cloud storage solutions for consumers.

Key considerations:

  • Dropbox is widely used with high likelihood that others will share files with your organization through Dropbox
  • Dropbox has a robust syncing functionality and is great at keeping files up to date
  • The free tier only offers 2GB of storage

You can sign up for a free dropbox account here.


Box started with focus on providing storage solutions to large enterprise companies. Beyond their free tier they have special programs aimed at nonprofits.

Key considerations:

  • Box offers 10GB on their free tier
  • Box built their solution around large organizations and their need for governance and security for document management
  • Box is not as popular in the consumer space, so not many people outside large organizations are familiar with it

You can sign up for a free box account here.

These essential productivity tools are a great starting point for setting up your organization for success. Having powerful document creation tools available to your teams, where they can share and collaborate on initiatives seamlessly between devices and locations, are a must in today’s work environment. Ensuring our documents and important files are automatically backed up and available from any device can give us peace of mind, and enable new workflows that weren’t possible before. The great thing about all these tools is that they are free and any organization can easily sign up and try it to see if they meet their needs and can fit their teams well.

Kasra Zokaei is the Founder and Executive Director of CIMHS, a nonprofit that has developed Bliss, a free online therapy for depression program that teaches skills and strategies for overcoming depression. He has extensive knowledge about technology and has over a decade of experience in the high tech sector. @cimhs is focused on using technology to make effective mental health services accessible to people around the world! You can find Kasra on twitter @kasra_z and on LinkedIn.

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