5 Services Every Nonprofit Should Be Using In Its First Year

So, you’ve decided that you want to start your own nonprofit.  You’ve written your vision and mission and have officially launched.  Get ready, your first year is going to be filled with hard decisions….should you invest in the computer equipment or office space?  Or wait, maybe hire that accountant or that lawyer?  It can be difficult to figure out which investment will have lasting value.  Your wish list may be a mile long and it may be agonizing to decide which item has priority. Not prioritizing your wish list may result in unnecessary spending that eats up your budget, or you may focus too much on certain items while ignoring other necessary purchases.  I’ve created Boss on a Budget for this very reason-to help you navigate your decision-making in the first year and make solid choices that set a good foundation for launching your nonprofit successfully.

Below are the 5 online services that every startup nonprofit should be using in its first year:

G Suite (formerly Google Apps for Work)

Cost:  Free (for nonprofits)

The G Suite is a collection of tools from Google to help streamline your basic business processes.  It includes a business email address, video and voice calls, integrated calendars, and 30GB of online storage.  As a nonprofit, one of your best marketing tools is your website, and using the G suite allows you to create email addresses using your website’s domain (e.g., name@yourbusinesswebsite.com). One of my favorite features of the G Suite is Google Docs & Drive which are cloud-based. Don’t know what that means?  Instead of creating and storing documents on your computer’s hard drive or a physical drive which is vulnerable to be corrupted or stolen, you can store your documents in tech heaven.  Tech heaven (the cloud) are servers managed by other companies that allow you to access and modify documents from anywhere you can access the Internet.  Using Google products you can create documents, spreadsheets, forms/surveys, or presentations.  

Why You Need It:  The Google for Nonprofits program gives you access to these tools for free.  You also have the ability to create unlimited email address for all staff persons.  That should be enough justification for you but in case it isn’t, go ahead, keep reading…...Because Google is such a household name, it’s much more likely to integrate with other apps or programs once you begin to build your budget and expand to use other online resources.  Yes, there are other alternatives you can use, but most are not as user-friendly, well-known, or well-functioning as Google.  Also, practically everyone and their mother has a gmail address, and the ability to use the same platform that most of your staff will be accustomed to is a big plus. If you are considering alternatives, I would take any decision about an email client very seriously as a missed or delayed email may be the difference in getting a donation and not getting one. And at $5 per user, you really don’t have much to lose. Visit Google to join.


Cost:  As low as $8/month

Squarespace is a website builder service that is fully integrated-it includes a drag and drop style website builder, a blogging platform and website hosting all in one.  Their company’s slogan is “Build it Beautiful” for a reason.  Squarespace’s website design is based heavily on the use of bright and vivid imagery with a big impact.  Based on a number of company-created templates, you can easily incorporate your branding, images, and copy into your own website.  

Why You Need It:  Every nonprofit should have a website.  Considering that adults spend over 20 hours a week on the Internet, it’s one of the best ways for potential clients, donors, funders, and other supporters to find you.  Your website can expand your reach beyond your organization’s physical capabilities and can speak for you when you’re not in the room.  Given that, keep in mind that your website can be an asset or it can be a detractor.  Whatever website builder you use, it needs to help communicate your message quickly and beautifully.  Many people will insist that you need a web developer to create an effective website.  However, a carefully planned and thoughtful website does not have to be expensive and does not have to be outsourced.  I would argue against the use of a web developer during the first year of your nonprofit.  Use more sophisticated custom designs for a later stage in your nonprofit’s development.  Squarespace’s simple and uncomplicated design is the best option if you have limited knowledge, time and/or resources to create a website.


Cost:  Free

Mailchimp is an email marketing platform that can jazz up your email communications.  You can create lists of people and send communications to segments of those lists based on behaviors or their interests.  It helps you to organize your communications into separate campaigns and allows you to track the success and engagement of your emails.  Mailchimp is free up until a number of subscribers.  After that point, it starts at $10/month.

Why You Need It: Mailchimp is so awesome and popular because it starts out free. There are many other email platforms that promise the world, but for what you need in your first year, it is an excellent resource.  Mailchimp also integrates with many other online services including Eventbrite and Squarespace, to automatically link the email addresses you collect to your lists in the Mailchimp interface.  As you build your donor base, it’s important that you have a system to reach out to them immediately after they reach your organization, and you can use Mailchimp to continue reaching out to them when they reach certain milestones (like when they donate a certain amount or attend an event).  For a small fee you can upgrade to use their automation features and set up a system to reach out to your lists when certain events are triggered.  I’m not always impressed by the Mailchimp email templates, but they are good enough to get the job done.


Cost:  Free

Canva is the best kept secret of wannabe graphic designers worldwide.  It is a service that allows you to design content for any project imaginable- social media posts, brochures, flyers, presentations, business cards, and anything else you can come up with.  Canva allows you to use icons and various templates to give your designs a boost.  Canva for Work, which is free for eligible nonprofits, allows you to customize your fonts and organize projects among a team.  Canva is easy to use and allows you to quickly create professional looking documents.

Why You Need It:  As a nonprofit, your branding and messaging must be consistent, attractive, and eye-catching.  Yet, it’s difficult do that without hemorrhaging your budget, which is more than likely limited in your first year.  You still need to create clean and sharp designs that make the impression that you’re a legitimate and credible business.  Canva allows you to develop elements, colors, and fonts with ease that can consistently be used in documents.  It also gives you the ability to share concepts within a full team so that any content produced is consistent.


Cost:  Free

I’d be pretty shocked if you haven’t heard of Facebook.  But in order to not be judgmental, I’ll act like it’s not a big deal if you haven’t.  Facebook is an online social media and networking service that allows you to create user profiles, business pages, and online groups to connect to family, friends, colleagues, and strangers across the globe.  When you set up a business page, you can add important information about your business like your mission, website, services, location, and pictures.

Why You Need It:  Remember when yellow pages were a thing?  When you would actually pay to be featured in those huge phone books that were delivered every year?  Isn’t it amazing how time changes everything?  Whether you love or hate it, Facebook has to be a part of your marketing strategy.  There is absolutely no excuse for not having a Facebook page.  Some businesses are even forgoing their own websites for just a Facebook page. Some will check to see if you’re on Facebook before googling your website.  Facebook has 1.71 billion monthly active users, which certainly includes many of your potential donors.  Your visibility online is just as vital, if not more vital than a physical presence.  Think of it as paying $0 for rent for a visible space where you can find supporters, connect with them, and build trust and your reputation.

Once you start a nonprofit, you may be overwhelmed with where to start.  Of all the choices you’ll have to make with your new nonprofit, these 5 tools should absolutely be on the top of your list.  Check out our start-up toolkit with relevant blogs, videos, and other resources you need to get started.