The first time I accepted a board position for my local PTA, I was handed a huge 3 ring binder of paperwork and given the username and password to a gmail.com email address. This is a pretty typical scenario with nonprofits and for many groups I'm sure it works just fine. For me however this highlighted one of the first projects I would decide to take on as a new PTA leader.
Let's start with why? There are many benefits to having a centrally managed digital platform for your PTA. In this blog post I'm going to discuss what Google Workspace is and why you would consider implementing it for your PTA. In a follow up post I'll dig into how to go about registering and implementing this solution for your own PTA.
Note: You may be familiar with Google Workspace by its old name, G Suite. In October 2020 Google rebranded this service.
Google Workspace is a platform made up of several online services including email, calendars, online meeting tools, document storage and more. Many of the services mirror those available to individuals with a regular Google account, but with Workspace these services are designed with teams in mind rather than individuals. Many for-profit organizations use Google Workspace as their core collaboration platform and Google typically charges a per-user fee for this service; however they also make it available for free to qualifying nonprofit organizations. Google Workspace for Nonprofits is just one of several Google services offered under the Google for Nonprofits program, but in this post I'm just going to focus on Workspace.
Briefly, I'll mention that Google isn't the only option out there. Microsoft has a similar Nonprofit Offers program where qualified nonprofits can get access to Microsoft 365 (previously Office 365; apparently rebranding is in vogue right now) services for free or at a discount. It's not my intention to advocate for one service over the other; I'm sure they are all great. The primary reason I decided to leverage Google for my PTA is that we were already using individual Google accounts so there was a very easy transition and short learning curve.
Centralized Account Management
With any volunteer organization, there can be a lot of turnover. Volunteers can leave suddenly for a variety of reasons, and when they do you want to be able to regain access to their "official" email address and online documents for the group. Imagine a scenario in which your "OurPTATreasurer@gmail.com" email address that is associated with your PayPal account, Amazon Smile, and other critical services is suddenly inaccessible and the only person who knows the password is no where to be found? What about a simpler scenario where they just forgot their password? With Google Workspace you establish a few trusted administrators who have centralized account management access for all of your accounts. They can administratively change passwords or recover lost accounts if needed. This not only keeps you in control of your accounts, it increases security by eliminating the need to document and share tons of passwords.
This year has forced PTAs to reevaluate how we meet. I've seen many PTAs decide to invest in Zoom for their online meetings. At $150 per user however, the cost can add up quickly. As a compromise most PTAs have decide to only purchase a single license and share it across all of the different teams and committees. This can be problematic however as a single password ends up being shared among many people and if anyone tries to start a meeting while another is already running it can disrupt the meeting in progress.
Google Workspace comes with Google Meet for every account. This means that anyone in your PTA who is issued an account can schedule and host online meetings without worrying about conflicting with any other meetings or sharing passwords.
Document Management and Sharing
Remember that huge binder I was handed on my first day as a PTA Leader? It's completely gone now... shredded. All of the documents have been either downloaded digitally or scanned and stored in Google Drive. Many PTAs are already familiar with Google Drive, but the version that comes with Google Workspace has some distinct advantages. One of the primary advantages is the centralized account management I mentioned before. Never worry about losing documents because you lost access to one of the accounts. Workspace administrators can easily reset passwords or recover lost accounts.
The biggest advantage however is probably Shared Drives. With Shared Drives you can create "official" document repositories for all of the various teams or committees. These Drives can have content managers and members, but aren't tied to any one member's account, making them much easier to manage as teammates come and go.
How do you manage email lists for your team today? Do you send emails with huge lists of email addresses in the TO: field? Do you regularly forget folks, mistype an email address, or email folks who aren't even in the group any longer?
Workspace comes with powerful feature called Groups. With Groups you can easily create and manage groups of individuals. Groups support members with both internal (your Workspace) and external email addresses, so you can have groups with members even if they don't have an account on your Google Workspace. Each group has a dedicated email address, so to send an email to everyone in the group; you just need to include that one address in the TO: line. There are many settings to help you set up the group exactly as you want. You can choose to let anyone send email to the group, or only moderators. You can make the group completely private or let people add themselves.
Another very powerful use for Groups is to manage access to Shared Drives. Rather than granting Shared Drive assess to individuals, grant access to your Group. Then as you add and remove members from the Group they will automatically gain or lose access to the Shared Drive. This makes shared document management much simpler and more secure!
The final benefit I'll mention is branding. With Google Workspace you can link your custom internet domain name (such as MySchoolPTA.org) to your Google Workspace subscription. When you do this, your email addresses are now personalized; such as President@MySchoolPTA.org instead of MyPTAPresident@gmail.com. This can really help to make a great first impression with your community and potential donors; elevating the professionalism of your organization and even helping to reduce the chance your email is dismissed as spam.
Domain name registration itself is not part of the Google for Nonprofits offering, so you will need to handle this registration separately through a service like Google Domains or NameCheap (there are many many others). There is a cost associated with this registration and it's typically around $13 a year. The good news is that if your PTA already has a custom website, you probably have already done this, there is just a little extra work to integrate it with Google Workspace.
If you've been thinking about a digital transformation for your PTA, hopefully I've given you some good reasons why you should make the investment, and how to do it without breaking your budget. If you're a Shoreline School District PTA/PTSA and would like help setting up Google Workspace for your team, please reach out to the Shoreline PTA Council; we would be delighted to help! For everyone else, watch this space. I'm planning to write a follow up post where I help walk through the steps to get you started. If you're ready to jump in on your own, simply head over to Google for Nonprofits and click on "Get Started."