This is a guest post from Salem Kimble, the manager of social media development at TechSoup's donor partner, BetterWorld Telecom. It is a testimonial and review from Brooke Towne of FishWise, a nonprofit that received donated equipment and discounted services with BetterWorld Telecom through TechSoup.

FishWise provides innovative market-based tools to the seafood industry, enabling consumers and grocery retailers to support marine conservation through their seafood purchasing decisions.

I was hired to organize a growing nonprofit office of eight. They had only two phone lines from AT&T, and an inexpensive two-line phone with eight cordless extensions. Only two calls could happen at once, and there was only one shared voicemail inbox. They needed a new communication solution!

Well-informed friends also told me to give VoIP a fair chance because technology, and faster Internet speeds might have made it a viable solution. My further study made me realize that VoIP might not merely be an acceptable alternative; it might bring some advantages.

Do Your Homework

Not one to make long-term technology decisions (or spending decisions) lightly, I did my homework. I spent three months once or twice a week reading as many reviews as I could find about all the various VoIP and virtual PBX providers.

I found a confusing mix of raves and rants for virtually every company. (I soon confirmed that moving on trying to find the company with no negative reviews was futile, and that, probably, they did not reflect a consensus. I also noted that many complaints had to do with high-call-volume users, and our small nonprofit has light phone traffic.)

Once I decided VoIP was the answer, I began searching for Cisco phones because I believe they are the best. I looked for refurbished phones, and secondhand phones on Craigslist, but then remembered TechSoup also had hardware deals, and voila! I found BetterWorld!

Free Phones Through TechSoup

Not only did they work with Cisco phones, but they were FREE through TechSoup! We also applied for the California Teleconnect Fund (CTF), financial assistance which will reduce our monthly bill in half, and are waiting for acceptance. Suddenly VoIP was going save us money, as well as be a better flexible solution for communication.

What Bandwidth and Wiring Are Needed?

Understanding the technology is key for successful transition to VoIP. I recommend anyone that is going to use a hosted PBX solution for your business to analyze their broadband needs prior to implementing any internet based phone solution. Bandwidth is key, and if you have lots of PCs and Phones on the same network you could at any time saturate the network causing packet loss which will result in poor call quality. We already had a fast Internet connection, but all of our iMacs were connected wirelessly.

In preparation for the new phones, I had the office wired with CAT6, with two lines going to every station; one for data (iMac), and one for voice (VoIP). I also added a 24-port Gigabit switch with QoS, giving the VoIP ports priority over the data. Running the new cable was the biggest cost, but it was a one-time expense, and added to the functionality of the office beyond the phones. Plus, we saved so much on the free Cisco phones, the cost was somewhat deferred.

Some VoIP Benefits and Features

BetterWorld made the transition seamless. We are pleased with the features and flexibility, but customer service has been the strongest advantage. I am not an IT professional, just willing to make mistakes, and ask for help. Ali, a BetterWorld employee, has assisted with training, porting our old number, and fielding my questions. He has been impeccable.

BetterWorld did an outstanding job, but understanding the needs of a VoIP system is key in allowing them to do their best work. We are very surprised with the call quality, since it's actually better than our old land lines. We now all have our own extensions, so we can pick up the phone and make calls whenever we want! Having voicemail for every employee seems like such a luxury. We love being able to transfer calls to any phone, and to use follow-me settings to receive calls anywhere. The ability to forward voicemails via email to another coworker is so super-geeky cool!

A huge THANK YOU to BetterWorld for bringing this office up to speed.

Salem Kimble is the manager of social media development at TechSoup's donor partner, BetterWorld Telecom.