Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 45 seconds

From our headquarters in San Francisco, the team at WestEd faces challenges not unfamiliar to the rest of the nonprofit world. To accomplish our mission—success for every learner—we have to work each day to minimize administrative costs and to keep the focus on our many impactful programs. That means streamlining our project management processes, empowering our staff to do great work and tracking our tasks closely. But how does a nonprofit do this effectively? The answer is in the cloud.

Like most organizations, WestEd used to rely on a tangle of project management tools to get work done. On any given day, our teams used a mix of email, spreadsheets, programs like Microsoft Project, personal to-do list apps and even pen and paper to track projects, status and team availability. This ad hoc project management solution is not ideal for any organization—it prevents staff from working at peak efficiency and therefore adds a number of hidden costs into day-to-day work.

With the old spreadsheet-email-pen-and-paper system, our colleagues cited myriad issues like version control problems, confusion over deliverables and a lack of clarity with management over timelines and schedules. We are a decentralized organization working with hundreds of vendors and contractors and if you strip away the education content from our hundreds of contracts and programs, a lot of our work is project management. And yet, like many nonprofits, the basics of project management were not a focus.

For us, the solution is a program called Smartsheet, a cloud-based project management tool that gives us a central, online workspace that all our staff and contractors can easily access, update and track. We use the tool for grant management and reporting, deliverable tracking, issue logs, budgets, vendor and contractor coordination, asset and research management and more. From top to bottom, our team relies on key functionalities like update requests, cell linking, and automated alerts and reminders to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

In short, WestEd’s teams coordinate, track and measure our most important management functions in the cloud.

Cloud services and tools present a tremendous opportunity for nonprofits to save time, cut costs and run projects more effectively. We are a team of content experts, not project managers, so having a tool that people with all levels of technical expertise can use seamlessly is critical. Many of Smartsheet’s nonprofit users have reported saving as many as three to four hours per week by using the tool, cutting back on their administrative costs and helping achieve stronger results. And our move to the cloud didn’t end there. We also began using Box to share files easily, meaning that our staff interacts with cloud-based apps every day in many facets of their work.

What can other nonprofits learn from this? Don’t overlook the role that technology can play in helping your organization work more efficiently. Look for tools that allow easy collaboration between your staff and that can make everyone an effective project manager. Beyond just increased productivity and transparency, tools like Smartsheet can instill a culture of success in project management—a critical component of effective nonprofits.

Yvonne Keene is the director of technology and services at WestEd. To learn more about how WestEd uses Smartsheet please visit: Last modified on Friday, 28 February 2014
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