Why would a nonprofit use SharePoint?

Is SharePoint a good fit for an association?  What about a charity?  Should a non profit be using SharePoint?  The typical consultant answer is “it depends.”

First, let’s oversimplify SharePoint.  SharePoint is software used to build websites.  That’s it.

However, SharePoint is more than just a single-purpose web site tool.  It’s a platform that you can use build your Intranet, extranet, private social network, professional network, search engine, and public-facing website.  It’s more than just a web content management system, blogging system, wikie, or document sharing interface.  Once you and your team knows a little bit about SharePoint, you can focus on doing your job and less on learning and supporting niche applications and tools.

SharePoint is feature rich.  SharePoint sites can consist of documents, pages, images, videos, discussions, blogs, wikis, calendars, sites, subsites, security, workflow, search, dashboards, BI, and much more.  The fact that you can construct so many types of solutions without ever writing code is a powerful feature in itself.  I’m a huge proponent of configuration over customization.  If you do opt for customization (a.k.a writing code), then the SharePoint world is your oyster.

SharePoint is now bigger than Microsoft.  There are literally thousands of options available hosting, third-party products, add-ons, solution starters, templates, samples, examples, and even source code (see CodePlex).  Even companies that are traditional Microsoft competitors develop products that ‘tie in’ to SharePoint – even IBM.

Availability of Information.  Do a search for “whatever product or solution you are thinking about using”.  Search for Drupal, SiteCore, Ektron, WordPress, Joomla, or any of the hundreds of other website management products out there.  Then do a search for SharePoint.  Then go to Amazon.  Search for books related to your product.  Then search for books related to SharePoint.  If you want to become completely self-sufficient (and not rely on the vendor/consultant/IT guy), there does not seem to be a platform anywhere that has more information freely available than SharePoint.

Community.  There are more developers, end users, architects, consultants, companies, vendors, Microsoft partners working around SharePoint than any other solution or platform I have ever seen.  The SharePoint community exists both online and in person!  There are user groups that regularly meet and talk SharePoint in every major metro area – and international!  The single most important facet of the community is the welcoming attitude of the SharePoint community.  Join any group and participate, or just sit back and watch.  The community is extremely helpful.

Conferences.  There are so many conferences every year that I no one has an accurate count.  Even if the conference isn’t dedicated to SharePoint, there seem to be SharePoint tracks or sessions at most of the conferences I’ve seen.

Return on Investment.  This is one that gets thrown around a lot – largely because of rumors and suppositions.  One of the most ill informed arguments I’ve heard is that SharePoint is expensive and open source is free!   First, SharePoint Foundation is free.  If you are running Windows Server 2008, you can download SharePoint and use it for … wait for it … FREE!    Okay, but let’s be realistic.  I know that you’ve heard this before – nothing is free.  You have to pay for servers, bandwidth, resources, skills, education, support – regardless of the technology.  If you run any technology platform – you pay for it.   Every related to implementation influences the ROI.  Availability of information, stability, education costs, capabilities, stability, recurring investments.  Also, what happens when angry IT guy that put in the LAMP solution quits or goes out of business.  Who, where, how are you going to get support?  Is the community and ecosystem big enough to support you in a year?  What about in 5 years?

Technology decisions are complex.  Do I think SharePoint is a good fit for every organization?  Yes!  (just kidding).  I think we can all agree that there is no single technology that is a perfect fit for every organization for every solution.  I think every organization should give serious consideration to the big picture when selecting technology platforms.  Do you want a single platform or individual niche applications?  Do you want commercially supported tools or open source (or a hybrid)?  While I don’t work for Microsoft, I’ve never heard of an IT manager getting fired for choosing Microsoft as a technology platform.

By John Stover

John Stover Bio.

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