As Office 365 continues to gain popularity, nonprofits are starting to take notice and have been contacting us about moving their email solutions to the service. Without a doubt, Office 365 sits right next to Google Apps as one of the best options going forward for email that includes all-inclusive calendaring, contact management, and much more like web conferencing through Lync Online.

I personally penned some thoughts on why the new February 2013 release of Office 365 is such an improvement over last generation, and how our company is now fully recommending the suite to organizations of all sizes. Microsoft has fixed the stability, functionality, and support issues that plagued the previous release and Office 365 now represents a mature solution that beats Hosted Exchange or on-premise Exchange hands down.

office-365-new-2013-logo

So why is there so much confusion online surrounding whether Office 365 for Nonprofits really exists, how much it costs, etc? There are two main issues with the way that Microsoft has been promoting this product on the sly:

  • No official “landing” or info pages on the Office 365 website. A quick Google Search for “Office 365 for nonprofits” yields very few helpful results, as Microsoft is doing little to self promote the product. This leads to much speculation and a lot of half-baked answers from people in the field, with few who have truly dealt with the process of getting this edition for customers.
  • No publicly available pricing information for comparison. Google does an excellent job promoting the fact that its Google Apps for Nonprofits is completely free. You won’t find any breadcrumbs on Microsoft’s websites related to how much Office 365 for Nonprofits really costs.

This confusion is further shown in the few web discussions that have been going on. The users on SpiceWorks’ forums had some chatter about this product, as did the official Office 365 Community forums. Neither place gives any concise information other than confirming that the service edition exists and has special pricing.

I’d like to clear up some of the unfortunate confusion surrounding Office 365 for Nonprofits with some clear answers for what I know about the product. We have full authority to get customers on this edition of Office 365, and I’ve personally helped nonprofits get approved for this offering. So here is everything I know so far.

What versions of Office 365 are available in Nonprofit edition?

As far as I know, with our most recent nonprofit approval in mid July 2013, two editions of Office 365 are in Nonprofit flavoring. This includes:

Microsoft may open up other flavors to Nonprofit pricing, but these are the only two which are being offered to new customers in the Nonprofit program.

What are the differences between the E1 and E3 editions of Office 365 for Nonprofits?

The basic differences between the two editions are shown below in this pluck from the Office 365 editions comparison website:

o365_nonprofits_comparison

The main differences to keep in mind are these two items: Office 365 E3 includes desktop license rights for traditional Office desktop software, and E1 does not. The rest of the feature set is fairly similar outside of a few differences. If you want to dig deeper into the differences, feel free to call us (312-445-0702) or you can view the light comparison table, or the deep nitty gritty comparison that is available on TechNet. Keep in mind the pricing shown on the above comparison table is RETAIL pricing for businesses. My next point below goes into pricing for Office 365 for Nonprofits.

How much does Office 365 E1 and E3 for Nonprofits cost?

This used to be one of the greatest areas of contention with this special tier of Office 365 in the past. There were rumors online of there being a half price discount; some people claimed that nonprofits got 75% off. Well, whether or not these used to be true is history because I can confirm that a customer of ours just got the following pricing offered:

  • Office 365 Level E1 for Nonprofits: $0/month per user (aka FREE)
  • Office 365 Level E3 for Nonprofits: $5/month per user (75% off face value)

The latest nonprofit we helped setup with Office 365 for Nonprofits chose to go with the free E1 level, and below is a shot of how the licensing area looks in their administration panel as proof:

o365_nonprofits_pricing

So yes, Nonprofit edition DOES exist and for all intents and purposes, you CAN get it for free if you are approved. More on that next.

How can I get Office 365 for Nonprofits for my organization?

This is another confusing cat and mouse game that many nonprofits have been playing with Microsoft. The short answer to this is: you need to go through a certified Microsoft partner who is authorized to support nonprofit organizations with Office 365 setup and consultation. FireLogic happens to be one of the few companies in the Chicago, IL area that is capable of doing so. If you try to find links on the Microsoft website  to sign up on your own you will likely find yourself in an endless circle of misinformation, as we initially did before we found out the true details of how this program works.

Approval is not instant, however. We have found out first hand that getting through the approval process takes about 3-6 days on average, and all that is required is your formal letter of 501C3 authorization from the IRS in most cases. After Microsoft checks on your nonprofit status, the approval email is sent directly to FireLogic and we can switch on your new Office 365 account that entitles you to free or reduced licenses for your entire staff.

DO NOT sign up for a paid account and then believe that you can merely get the new licensing to take its place. While in essence this does work, you will more than likely NOT be entitled to any refund from Microsoft for your initial purchase. In short, it’s best to let FireLogic work through the sign up process with you and ensure all proper steps are taken to ensure no money is wasted unnecessarily.

How does Office 365 for Nonprofits compare to Google Apps for Nonprofits?

This is a very common question we get. Since Google Apps for Nonprofits comes in only one flavor, a free edition, the cleanest 1:1 comparison we can make is to that of Office 365 E1 for Nonprofits. Both of these suites are completely free (upon approval, of course) and offer very similar feature sets from our experience. You may want to take a spin on the Google Apps for Nonprofits website as well as the Office 365 E1 website to have a visual at-a-glance look at the biggest things that each has to offer. The similarities between each are fairly good:

  • Email: Office 365 provides 25GB of email storage, and Google Apps now offers 30GB for each user. For 99% of users, the small difference is negligible. Both services have clean web interfaces, but Office 365 supports Outlook desktop software MUCH better than Google Apps does. If your nonprofit relies on Outlook, you may want to skip Google Apps.
  • Spam Filtering: Microsoft employs the fantastic Exchange Online Protection platform to provide spam/virus/malware prevention for Office 365, and Google Apps has its own native engine powered by the old Postini system they bought out years ago. Both systems are top notch.
  • Cloud Document Creation & Edition: Google Docs (part of Google Apps) has a slight leg up on Office 365 and their Office Web Apps functionality, but just because Google has been in the game longer. FireLogic uses Google Docs for its cloud document needs, but long time Office users will be much more comfortable with Office Web Apps and its familiar Word/Excel/PowerPoint/etc interfaces.
  • Web Conferencing: Both products offer integrated conferencing capabilities, but Microsoft’s Lync Online has a slight leg up. Not only is the product garnering more traction in the enterprise (70% of the Fortune 500 are on Lync already) but it also has a nice 250 person meeting limit. Google’s alternative, called Hangouts, is slick in look and feel but only has a 100 person meeting cap and lacks some of the advanced functions like built in recording which Lync Client has.
  • Security: Both Google Apps and Office 365 are neck and neck when it comes to tight security. Both offer full HIPAA, FISMA, SAS 70 Type II, and other advanced security credentials that big business and sensitive organizations are asking for.  As I previously wrote in an entry on Betanews.com, there are no Hosted Exchange providers that can touch what Office 365 or Google Apps have to offer.
  • Cost: If you are looking for the free solution from either vendor, you can’t beat the cost of free. The only paid tier you would be looking at is the Office 365 E3 for Nonprofits edition, which offers advanced legal retention and other high end features most nonprofits are not really concerned about. Desktop Office rights for each user is the only other reason I would be considering E3 for a nonprofit.

The above list I made is by no means comprehensive. Give us a call if you want us to go into further detail about any aspects you are curious about: 312-445-0702.

I have heard that Office 365 for Nonprofits doesn’t come with support. Is this true?

This may have been the case in the past, but both the E1 and E3 tiers available to nonprofits today get the same business level 24/7 phone and email support that the retail commercial editions provide. I have yet to see an instance where a nonprofit customer had issues with getting support for their organization. Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Do I have to renew my Nonprofit edition of Office 365 with Microsoft?

This may change as time goes on, but current nonprofit customers we have been getting on the platform have been approved with 2-year renewal cycles. So, for example, getting approved in July 2013 would pit your re-approval at July 2015, and so forth. This is very reasonable we have found and no one has had issues with this.

How can I sign up for a trial of Office 365 for Nonprofits?

We love trials too, so we can’t blame you for asking! Very simply, you can give Office 365 E3 a spin and if you like what you see, we can help guide you through the migration process for your nonprofit. If you sign up for a trial on this E3 level, we can help convert your organization cleanly without any of the issues that others have run into. Be sure to use this link in signing up as it will take you straight to the proper Office 365 E3 signup for a full featured 30 day trial run on the platform.

What if I have other questions about Office 365 for Nonprofits?

We love phone calls, so this is usually the best way to reach us. You can call our main line at 312-445-0702 and ask for Derrick W, as I am the resident authority on all things Office 365 especially Nonprofit pricing and authorization. Or, you can also email us using the form on the right hand side of this page. You can have a look at the excellent testimonials our company has on our Google Marketplace profile and our Office 365 Marketplace page.

We will do our best to keep this page up to date with the latest information on Office 365 for Nonprofits as it becomes available. Reach out to us if there is something on here that we didn’t cover.

Last Updated: July 18, 2013

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