We released our report on the 2012 TechSoup Global NGO Cloud Survey in September; we've now had several months to consider the findings and talk to some of you about what you think.

In this post, I'll share our thoughts on what should be done next. This post is the first of a series. Find the second in the series here, and the third here.

Is the Cloud Really Here?

Our survey found that current usage of the cloud among survey respondents was very high, with 90 percent of respondents indicating they use at least one cloud-based service. While usage varies by region, the range is relatively narrow, with a high of 93 percent in Australia/New Zealand and USA/Canada and a low of 83 percent in India.

And although NGO current use of the cloud seems superficial, we were surprised to find that just 9 percent of respondents to our survey were only using a "light" cloud app, which included office productivity apps. It turns out that NGOs are trying out an array of cloud services.

Here's what we think about this. For the global NGO sector, cloud computing has arrived. People are familiar with it and using it, at a minimum, in a lightweight way.

The large response to our survey (more than 10,500 NGO responses from 88 countries and in 21 languages) indicates that there is strong interest among NGOs to find out more about cloud technology.

We hope that cloud computing companies will take note — the NGO sector, which comprises roughly 5 percent of the world's GDP, is interested in finding cloud-based solutions to address their IT challenges.

What Cloud Adoption Means for NGOs

Our survey found that while cloud usage among NGOs is widespread, it is not deep yet. Thirty-five percent of respondents said that they were using only one or two types of cloud apps.

We found that NGOs are first adopting cloud services that include online email, office productivity apps, data backup/storage apps, social networking, telephone/voice services, and email marketing. 

Our thoughts on this are as follows.

There is plenty of room for NGOs to move more of their IT functions to cloud services. Most NGOs may be starting with light cloud services like Facebook or Gmail, but a significant number of respondents reported using at least one heavier cloud service like data backup and storage.

Our view is that the already strong interest among NGOs in trying out cloud services is a good thing. It also heralds a game change in nonprofit technology.

How TechSoup Plans to Address the Findings

According to TechSoup Global’s Dan Webb on Microsoft Technet,"Cloud computing is the next frontier for NGOs. It changes what’s possible for organizations on the ground."

And TechSoup Global’s co-CEO, Rebecca Masisak says, "As our world becomes increasingly connected, mobilized, and digitized, cloud computing has significant potential to transform social benefit work.

"Nonprofit programs can become the nexus of networks with a closeness and engagement from constituents never before possible. Benefits of lower costs, operational excellence, and ability to innovate can be within the grasp of even the smallest NGO or nascent civil society project in the hands of a connected social entrepreneur."

We expect to see more and more technology vendors offering cloud-based versions of their products. We recognize that these vendors are actively encouraging users to select the cloud-based versions of their software.

Given these shifts, we think it's likely that many organizations will need to make decisions about whether cloud-based solutions are right for them. TechSoup Global's goal is to empower NGOs worldwide to make informed decisions about technology adoption, and this includes making decisions about cloud-based technologies.

We also believe having information about the current state of NGO cloud computing, NGOs' plans for cloud adoption, and the challenges they face will help TechSoup Global and other organizations better support and advocate on behalf of the sector.

We regard our survey as a first step in assessing the needs of NGOs.

To quote Marnie Webb, co-CEO of TechSoup Global, "We need to know more about the technology usage of the organizations we all serve. We all know bits and pieces of the usage. And surveys, like this one, and also like NTEN’s State of the Cloud, help us. But we can also do a better job of thinking through the strengths and capacities we each bring, fitting those together so that we can get to solutions that work on the ground for the organizations we serve.

"We try to do that in the TechSoup Global Network. We don’t always succeed. I’m not asking for a big giant enforced collaboration project here. I’m asking that we actually find three tangible projects that we can move forward in the next year to help us bring a greater degree of technology savvy and support to the organizations we are dedicated to helping."

TechSoup Global’s Dan Webb (no relation to Marnie) adds, "Taken together, we feel that the we — and by we I mean TechSoup Global, our worldwide network, and every capacity builder, funder, and technology expert who works in this field — can do more to make the cloud even easier.

"We need to fully understand the business processes of the organizations we serve. And we need to build solutions that meet the needs of organizations and, as much as possible, meet them where they are."

We'll continue our exploration of our 2012 TechSoup Global NGO Cloud Survey results and what to do next. We welcome your thoughts!