Every month I’ll be highlighting a free or low-cost tool that community groups and not-for-profits can use to improve their marketing and communications. This month’s focus is on cloud storage.
Cloud storage—where your documents are stored online in ‘the cloud’ rather than on your computer’s hard drive—has been around for a while now, but many volunteer organisations still aren’t taking full advantage of it. As well as being a good way to back up your documents, cloud storage also provides a better way of collaborating on files than emailing them back and forth, especially if your files are large. By keeping a single copy of a file in a shared drive and instituting some practices for tracking edits, you can ensure that everyone on your committee always has access to the most up-to-date version. You can also share links to specific files or folders with people who aren’t members of your group, which will enable them to see only that specific document or folder.
Below are some profiles of three of the most popular cloud storage sites, although there are many more available. The main thing is to ensure that everyone in your organisation who needs access is set up with an account to whichever storage service you’re using. Accounts on all these sites are free for the basic model, but you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan if you want more storage. Most cloud storage sites also have apps so you can access your files wherever you are.
Dropbox, which started in 2007, is one of the original cloud storage sites. It has 2GB of free storage, although you can earn more by referring people (500MB for every person who signs up, up to 16GB). You can either access your files through the Dropbox site on your web browser or install a version directly to your computer so that it shows up in your file explorer, allowing for easy drag-and-drop.
Two main advantages that Google Drive has over its competitors are, firstly, it’s integrated with Google’s other products, such as Gmail, Calendar and Docs, so you only need a single account to access them all; and secondly, it provides much more free storage, with 15GB on its free plan.
Google Drive should not be confused with Google Docs, which is a collaboration tool that lets you create web-based text documents, spreadsheets or slides (stored online until you download them) that can be edited by multiple people simultaneously. Google Docs now sits within Google Drive. If you think of it in terms of your computer, Google Docs is like a mashed-up version of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, while Google Drive is like your computer’s hard drive, where everything is stored.
OneDrive (previously known as SkyDrive) is Microsoft’s cloud storage service. It works with Microsoft Office Online, meaning you can edit documents directly in your browser (much like Google Docs). It provides 5GB of free storage, but it is not as widely used as Dropbox or Google Drive, meaning many people in your organisation may already have accounts for one of those other services rather than for OneDrive.
iCloud is Apple’s cloud storage service, which it launched in 2011. Although it is an Apple product, there is a Windows version available, although this has to be installed on your PC rather than accessed through a browser. As well as storing your files, iCloud lets you back up your iOS device to it directly (provided you have enough space) and locate lost devices through the Find My iPhone service. iCloud comes with 5GB of free storage. In 2013, Apple launched iWork (a suite of office applications similar to Google Docs—Pages for word processing, Keynote for presentations and Numbers for spreadsheets). It also has iCloud Drive, which is a storage solution similar to Dropbox or Google Drive, although it’s not as user-friendly as these two and nowhere near as streamlined for collaboration.
If it’s properly managed, cloud storage can really help streamline your organisation’s processes. It can also be an effective way of maintaining an offsite backup of your documents (including your website) in case of a major technology failure or other disaster like a fire.