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How Nonprofit NGOs Can Squeeze Maximum Value Out Of Ever Tightening Budgets

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Governments try their best, but they just can’t do everything that needs to be done. That’s why there are so many Non Government Organizations (NGOs), frequently set up by ordinary citizens, committed to tackling pressing social, political and environmental issues.

One characteristic these diverse organizations have in common is their nonprofit status. On the positive side, that means they aren’t held back by short-term financial objectives. That gives them freedom to focus on long-term issues that may take years or decades to address such as alleviating poverty, stamping out endemic diseases or campaigning against environmentally destructive activities such as whaling.

However, nonprofit often goes hand-in-hand with tight budgets. They simply don’t have the disposable income to waste on expensive or inefficient solutions. So expense control and squeezing maximum value out of every penny are a key part of any NGO’s operational philosophy. And in these increasingly digital days, that includes communications.

That’s very different from the situation at a commercial enterprise. They are geared up to make money, so they can afford to spend it on support services. And quite a few do just that, especially on communications, where the ROI isn't always justified.

According to a Forbes story entitled “How Mobile Communications Costs Can Cripple Your Company,” an audit of an infrastructure company found that four phones in Saudi Arabia were racking up charges of more than US$12,000 a month. That’s almost US$150,000 a year for – and let me say it again – just four phones!

Unified Communications Joins the Army

NGOs can’t afford that sort of expenditure – not without seriously compromising the ability to do their real job. But thanks to unified communications solutions from ShoreTel, a growing number of them don’t have to compromise at all.

Looking at Australia, where huge distances between cities can drive telephone costs sky high, a sizeable number of NGOs are using brilliantly simple ShoreTel solutions to keep their communications under tight control.

One example is The Salvation Army, whose existing hosted IP telephony contract was expiring. The organization was also relocating to a new territorial headquarters in Sydney and consolidating up to 10 current offices to provide additional space for future expansion.

With almost “military precision”, it viewed the challenge as an opportunity to implement a new unified communications and contact center solution. Its key criteria – the new solution would integrate with IBM Notes, The Salvation Army’s global standard collaboration platform.

After a stringent tender process and careful consideration, The Salvation Army decided on a ShoreTel solution proposed by HP to deploy more than 1,700 IP telephony handsets to over 60 sites in New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory.

It seems to be working. According to The Salvation Army’s IT Manager, Wayne Bajema, the new ShoreTel environment is fresh, easy-to-use and intuitive, and will provide the best foundation for the organization’s future communications needs.

He also believes that telephony integration with the organization’s messaging and applications environment will actually improve how The Salvation Army does business. In practice, that means giving staff the ability to work anywhere and stay connected to the office, when travelling or out in the field.

Reaching for the Stars

Another not-for-profit NGO, the Starlight Children’s Foundation Australia, is saving money on communications after it replaced an ageing telephone system with a communications-as-a-service (CaaS) solution from NSC called Breeze, based on ShoreTel technology.

The foundation runs programs designed to support the well-being and resilience of seriously ill children and their families. Breeze is a subscription-style offering, so Starlight didn’t need to buy any equipment; rather, just pay the service subscription on a month-by-month basis.

NSC installed 165 ShoreTel handsets, agent workgroups, operator services, UC desktop clients and the ShoreTel System Management Application. Some 30 Starlight employees were provided with softphone capabilities, allowing them to have all the functionality of an office phone on their laptop computers – a boon to staff who frequently need to work away from the foundation’s offices.

As well as realizing major cost savings, Starlight is also enjoying new functionality and agreed service levels. The money it saved by switching carriers was more than sufficient to cover the cost of the new phone system.

Lessons for the Private Sector

Today there seems to be more NGOs than ever, and the pressure on budgets is also increasing. So, it’s no wonder that organizations like The Salvation Army, Starlight and many others are looking very seriously at unified communications technology as a way to stretch what they have as far as possible.

Although not driven by profit, these organizations are applying best practices and tight financial management that the private sector could learn from.

Frederic Gillant Frederic Gillant joined ShoreTel in 2014 as vice president and managing director for Asia Pacific. Based in Singapore, Gillant leads ShoreTel’s go-to-market strategy across Asia Pacific managing the sales, channels, marketing and sales operations for the region.