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What unified communications options do you use?

  • Does your nonprofit have a unified communications system? Are you using an old-school phone system or have you switched to using VoIP or PBX? What about using instant messaging, online conferencing, or webinars to hold meetings? Are you using VPN to let your employees work remotely?

    What has (and hasn't) worked for your organization? Do you have a great VoIP, PBX, or POTS (plain old telephone system) provider you'd like to recommend? Share your resources for creating effective communications systems in your office (and across many offices) here!

    TechSoup has a new article coming out soon with discussions about how new telecommunications options are changing the way nonprofits do business. I'll post the link here once it's live.

    Update: How Telecommunications Is Changing Work for Nonprofits

    Becky Wiegand is the Interactive Events Producer at TechSoup.org
    @bajeckabean on Twitter

  • Unified would be nice, but to cut costs we are using a blend of technologies to get the same effect.  For my PBX type service, I am using a hosted service from Grasshopper.  It gives me auto attendant and voicemail boxes.  Each extension (and voicemail box) can be configured separately to ring another number (we usually use Skype-In or a cell phone - there are a lot of options here) and if there is no answer, take a voicemail.  Voicemails are then delivered to me in 2 ways: via email as an MP3 attachment and also as an MMS message to my cell phone.  Since all staff have a Skype number and account, we constantly utilize this software for conference calling, video calls (this works with 2 people only), , and instant messaging.  Skype is great for its hands-free capability by using our PCs.  We also have two fax numbers, one from MyFax.com and the other provided free with out account from Grasshopper.  We use the MyFax.com fax as a general fax for our company and it emails to a public folder on my mail server that is monitored by staff and distributed appropriately.  The other fax line from Grasshopper.com emails to a separate public folder available only to executives and hr.

    So, with multiple services we were able to get the features of unified communications (voicemail, email, faxes all in one inbox) without the upfront cost of an all-inclusive system.  This was a great solution for us when we were only 5 employees.  Now that we've grown to 10, we're having some management issues on managing all of the services we strung together.  Usually, once its set up its fine but getting new employees set up is becoming a pain since we have different people in charge of monitoring and managing the different services.  Eventually, we will probably move to an all-inclusive system if we continue to grow.

    A couple of my clients use the ShoreTel suite of products and I'm pretty happy with those for unified communications.  If we grow like we have been, we will be looking into a system from either ShoreTel with paid support or we will do a roll-your-own system from someone like TalkSwitch or even the open source Asterisk.

    Chris Shipley
    Nutmeg Consulting

  • We've gone to a VOIP system and I'm very glad. The two main things that it has given us are the voicemail to email integration, which is hugely important. The other thing is that we can not have remote staff who are part of our system. It's been hugely useful to us, especially the ability to allow some staff to work from home, with almost no impact on their ability to get certain parts of their jobs done.

     

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    Kayza Kleinman
    CIO &
    Director, Nonprofit Helpdesk
    Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island, Inc
    3001 West 37th Street
    Brooklyn NY 11224
    718 449-5000 x 2266
    fax 718 946-8240
     
     
    Helping you do good - better.

     

  • I recently did a lot of research regarding comm systems since our office is moving to a nearby location and we currently don't own a phone system (we're using another organization's system and have outgrown it). I was excited to learn more about VOIP - the flexibility is attractive to us. After further research, however, we were able to secure a used "plain old phone system" for $3,000 and monthly service of only $250. There was no VOIP or hosted PBX system that could compete with these prices. We're a small office (about 17 staff) and we have limited phone needs but I was surprised to get quotes from the hosted services that were far more than the $250 we would be spending with a hardline phone system. Of course, we won't have someone to call when the phone system fails which can be a real problem but we can't afford other solutions.

    Have any nonprofits out there considered SHARING VOIP or hosted PBX systems between multiple organizations? Since location isn't an issue with these services, we briefly considered sharing a hosted system with other nonprofits. In this economy, I am interested to hear if this is a potential savings for anyone out there.

    We will be using TelePacific for our phone service and I highly recommend them. They set us up with California discounts on service so we'll be paying 50% less than originally expected.

    I look forward to hearing more from fellow nonprofit managers on this topic...

    Amy Thoe, Volunteer San Diego

  • I can't wait for our new telephony forum that is going to start soon (poke poke to TS staff).

    So, there are a lot of VoIP options.  Two of my clients use regular telephone service to get their dial tone, but put VoIP on their network to run it.  so the VoIP doesn't have to replace POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) or T1's or whatever else you might be used to for a good price. 

    $3,000 for a phone system is a good price if it included the handsets...  but if it didn't, you might take a look at talkswitch.com for hardware.

    I actually have a hosted PBX at Grasshopper.com and it works really well for me.  And its cheap.  We pay less than $100 a month for it and have 20 virtual extensions.  We set up those extensions to ring at Skype lines which cost us $30 / yr.  Not a solution for everyone, but a great one for us.

    Chris Shipley
    Nutmeg Consulting

  • I think that a unified system makes the most sense for [self-promotional link removed by admin]  because it's easier to manage.  VoIP seems to have worked well for us in terms of price.  There are some latency issues, but we find that it works best when we separate the data line from the voice line.

  • Ditto for Skype In/Out and MyFax.

    I've used pFax for years (which MyFax bought), and it's the best $3/mo I've ever spent.  I also upgraded to the business class Skype so that I can manage multiple lines and buy phone numbers in other countries for projects I'm working on.

    It's all very turn-key, but would likely not scale well with lots of employees

  • We are looking at VoIP and I have been begging TechSoup's Cisco team to get the UC500 series products donated again, another poke. I have research many other solutions but what Chris has done ilooks like the only way our non profits can take advantage of this technology, and I think if Chris ever leaves his non profit they will have a hard time replacing him with someone who could support their systems.

    Our company is also considering multiple locations and if you start to add this into the mix the Cisco system starts to become the best choice since it will support ups to 10 locations, 5 auto attendants (different companies), and as many remote users as you have licences. I can get 100 DIDs from XO Communications to support all locations and/or companies and it can all be done with one UC560/520, which means one tech can support all locations from one location. The features of this system is endless, conference calling, Skype, P2P video calls, call recording, single number, calls from cellphone can be routed through office so caller ID will display office number, just to mention a few!

    So sharing is the goal to reduce costs for both equipment and support and if we can get the hardware from TechSoup then I would be implementing this today, after I do my endzone celebration dance!

     

  • I agree with Shipley. A mixture of hosted/virtual phone system plus some VoIP services will do the job.