Google often finds itself on the receiving end of negative press, but this is to be expected. The online juggernaut continues to grow and dominate the market, and this has coincided with a rise in suspicion among members of the public who are concerned about how much bigger the company can become and what effect this might have businesses. But despite all the bad press, Google does sometimes manage to live up to its 'Don't be evil' slogan.
Last night, at an event hosted at the Mental Health Foundation in Auckland, Google announced to 70 representatives from 50 Kiwi not-for-profit organisations that it will give eligible New Zealand charities and community organisations free access to advertising and technology worth USD $120,000 in each case per year.
The Google for Nonprofits package includes: up to USD $10,000 of Google AdWords each month; free use of Google Apps; Google Earth Outreach, a free license for the pro version of Google Earth that enables users to visualise their data in map version online; and YouTube for Nonprofits, which enables users to customise their videos and make them more eye-catching.
These services, often used by business, carry subscription fees, which have until now precluded many not-for-profits from using them. And gaining access to these services will make it more affordable for not-for-profit agencies to reach broader online audiences, which are becoming increasingly important as society becomes less likely to carry cash.
“For most Kiwi non-profit organisations, the internet is the most important platform for improving visibility, raising awareness and connecting with donors and volunteers," said Google New Zealand's Ross Young. “The challenge is how to budget for technology when there are so many competing demands on funding and resources. We want New Zealand’s nonprofit sector to be as connected and collaborative as possible. Google for Nonprofits is about removing the barriers and making this a reality.”
Judi Clements, the chief executive of The Mental Health Foundation, welcomed the move and said that the digital sphere was becoming increasingly important as a channel to reach those who might need the help from her organisation.
During a short presentation at the event, Clements said that within three months of signing up to Google AdWords, the Mental Health Foundation has seen visits to its website increase by 25 percent and requests for information rise by 52 percent.
“Google AdWords helps us connect with people searching for terms like suicide, depression and anxiety, which has helped more people find us when they’re seeking help," she says. “We can’t afford to advertise. The grant means we have can play with different strategies to find out what works.”
Sean Lyons, the chief technology officer of Netsafe, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes "safe and responsible use of online technologies", also took to the podium to share his thoughts on how much easier and more affordable Google's offering made it for his team to run his organisation.
Lyons was particularly enamoured with Google's cloud-based apps, which have removed the need for extensive—and often expensive—hardware.
"We've gone from four singular servers down to one single strip box, which could probably be replaced by an iPad," he said. "And that's meant that the number of people involved and the amount of money we spend on support, which was getting up to $1500 a month at the time, has been whittled down to almost nothing. And I think last year we spent less than a thousand dollars on physical support on our network and infrastructure."
For not-for-profit organisations, these savings mean that they can use the money to further support that causes that matter to them. But Lyons also adds that there's more to Google's offering than just the benefit of cutting down on IT costs.
"Apart from those physical things, the most important thing for us is the collaboration that this has made possible for us. In fact, it's less about collaboration now and more about co-creation for the way we work, because we can physically work with people no matter where they are both within our organisation and in organisations that we partner with."
He says that this technology has enables Netsafe to collaborate on a daily basis with orgnisations throughout the world, making it easier to deliver a uniform message across the board.
But not everyone is as tech savvy as Lyons, who is after all active in the online realm. So to ensure that all new users are able to take full advantage of the services on offer, Google has uploaded a series of tutorials to its YouTube channel that aim to give users insights on how to use the various features available through the programme.
In addition to this, the Google microsite dedicated to the initiative also features case studies that illustrate how different not-for-profit organisations across the world have put the services into practice.
During last night's event, Google also arranged for representatives to give on-site demonstrations of how users could use the tools to benefit their donation drives.
One of the more interesting demonstrations on show involved the customisation of Google Earth maps to give a graphic representation of how far the reach of a project is.
From a practical point of view, this could be used to show the decline of a forest over time or to flag the locations of people who have been helped by an organisation's not-for-profit initiative—thereby providing a visual means by which not-for-profit organisations can communicate the importance of their causes to the target market.
But before not-for-profit organisations can access Google's services, they need to register their interest online through the TechSoup website. Once the TechSoup team is satisfied that all the eligibility requirements are met, then the not-for-profit organisation will be given information on how to access the services.
New Zealand is only the fourth country after the United States, Japan and Canada to be included in Google for Nonprofits grant programme, and Young says that he hopes that the project goes well, so that it could potentially be rolled out in more countries in the near future.
And while there's always going to be a level of suspicion regarding a massive enterprise that over the course of the last financial year paid only $227,074 in New Zealand, it's good to see the organisation supporting the Kiwis who dedicate their lives to helping others.