VoIP for your Nonprofit

Save Money through VoIP

By Kevin Lo

While "VoIP" has entered mainstream technology lexicon as meaning "free long distance" or being able to speak to your friends online via your instant messaging client, on the most fundamental level, VoIP just means how voice, a form of data, is carried over a data network, namely the Internet Protocol network that we have used mainly for Web browsing or email.

Your phone company probably has been carrying your calls on a Voice over IP (VoIP) network for awhile, but it is entirely transparent to you using a regular phone. On a macro level, large corporations have, for many years, adopted VoIP or IP telephony into their infrastructures - not to save money on their long distance bills, but to better manage customer service, make directory information more easily available, and to facilitate scaled growth and expansion.

While you may be able to save money if you subscribe to a voice-calling service specifically marketed as "VoIP" with lower rates, it is often an afterthought. These benefits have long been out of reach for small-medium businesses, let alone nonprofits. However, telecom equipment manufacturers and providers are now keen to enter this new market.

Even though they do not have as many employees or revenues as large corporations, Small and Medium-size Businesses are also eager to adopt such technology in their organisations for similar reasons. For example, a task as routine as adding a phone line for a new employee can be greatly simplified if you have a VoIP network. It also becomes less time-consuming on your support staff if employees need to be moved around that office, or even to a branch office.

What VoIP Can Mean for Nonprofits and NGOs

For budget and cost-conscious organisations, if free long distance may not necessarily be the main draw to a VoIP system, why should you consider it? The same reasons why companies and corporations would:

  • Scalability:

    By and large, adding another user, voice mailbox or an IP phone or Ethernet phone (ePhone) is just as simple as adding a computer to the network. For nonprofits that experience above-average turnover, by being able to set up and manage users in a timely fashion so they can perform their duties, the cost savings may be realized sooner than expected.

  • Centralised administration:

    If phone service and voice support are integral parts of your operations - for instance, a client-oriented human services agency - having a reliable and flexible phone system would ensure that you will provide the best quality of service to your clients. In addition, you may be better able to track and collect call data for monitoring and evaluation purposes.

  • Increased productivity:

    From a user's perspective, having voice mailboxes that can be integrated with the rest of your messaging infrastructure will allow for better productivity. With software-based phones, or "softphones," that are tied in with the rest of your communications system, users, too, can have greater control over their messages. Moreover, compared to a traditional phone network, you are more likely to be able to alter the phone network to match your processes and work styles. This can be particularly useful for organisations that have ad-hoc workgroups and arrangements based on seasonal campaigns or a combination of staff, volunteers and consultants.

Technology acquisition and implementation in nonprofits often undergo serious scrutiny, especially in economically uncertain environments. VoIP technology, though not yet as popular and easily understood as a database upgrade or a new Website, deserves serious consideration for organisations with a determined growth strategy, and those needing to deliver a predictable and high level of voice service.

Conclusion

Implementing a unified communications strategy, like any other major technological undertaking, requires careful planning and thorough understanding of your business processes in order for it to be worthwhile. Combining voice and data only makes sense when voice calls are a big part of your nonprofit operations and if you have the resources to keep the system sustainable. While cost savings in the form of long-distance bills may not be immediately realised, the time spent on routine tasks and your organisation's expansion could make a sizeable difference in efficiency and productivity. There are many benefits to moving towards a VoIP system, and could be a solution that is suitable for your organisation.

Copyright © 2008 CompuMentor

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