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Microsoft O365 – What You Need to Know

January 18, 2016

© 2016 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

Last year I reported a charity license issue breakthrough that now has many considering migrating to Microsoft Office 365 (O365). There are some limitations you need to know about, and there are ways to save considerable dollars. Here’s what you need to know.

The Charity Licensing Issue
Until last Fall Microsoft had this restriction in its O365 charity licensing program:

“Organizations that engage in discrimination in [employment practices] based on… gender identity or expression… [or] sexual orientation… other than as allowed by law are not eligible to participate in this program.”

This was an issue for many Christian churches and ministries. Thankfully we were connected with the right people in Microsoft (no small feat– and possibly even miraculous!) to address the concerns of those who had issues with that language. The result was that Microsoft made some changes in October that eased those concerns!

  • Microsoft added a statement to their website that says, “The only exception to this [anti-discrimination] policy is for religious organizations that are exempt from laws that prohibit such discrimination.” (see under “Anti-Discrimination Policy”)
  • Microsoft also added some FAQ points that explained its intention. The FAQ clarifies why Microsoft is excluding religious organizations from the anti-discrimination policy. It also answers two important questions about how to determine if an organization may be exempt from discrimination laws and whether Microsoft will be policing compliance. The FAQ can be found at under “Program Eligibility”.

Organizations interested in O365 charity licensing discounts must still be 501(c)(3) tax exempt, or under the umbrella of a larger organization (like an association or denomination). But the non-discrimination language issue has been solved for most.

What About Google Apps?
Google still has LGTB employment non-discrimination restrictions in place for charity licensing, which can be found at Churches that want to use Google’s business tools under their charity licensing program should note these restrictions.

O365 Limitations
O365 is a great option, but it is not for everyone. Here are some limitations we’re aware of that, if important to your organization, may mean avoiding or limiting the benefits you choose to implement:

  • Passwords must be complex and at least 8 characters, but cannot exceed 16 characters (unless integrated with your local network’s Active Directory — AD).
  • If you have a local area network managed by AD:
    • Integration between local network AD and O365’s AD is problematic unless the local AD has been appropriately cleaned up; you may be best off not trying to integrate the two. Ideally, though, they should be integrated.
    • Changes to AD, when integrated, can take awhile to replicate across both ADs, though password changes and disabling accounts are supposed to happen instantly.
  • OneDrive (in place of an on-site file server)
    • Many churches and ministries rely on a large file folder structure for shared files that may have departmental security.
      • OneDrive currently doesn’t handle that. There is a beta client showing promise, however.
      • Another possible solution is O365 Sharepoint.
    • OneDrive does not work well for Mac users. In its current version, the beta client does not resolve this issue.
    • Not nearly as simple to use as Dropbox or Owncloud.
  • Exchange (email, contacts, calendars, etc): For churches that send large group emails, unless using a 3rd party communication service, relay, or mailing list product, O365’s Exchange Server limits sending when emails:
    • 30 messages per minute, and
    • 10,000 recipients per day.

Best O365 Practices that Save
Even with the limitations mentioned above, it is likely your church or ministry would benefit from O365 at some level! Here are some best practices approaches.

  • For non-academic charities, there are basically two licensing options (see
    • E1 – FREE!
      • Does not include the fully installable version of Office, but does provide online browser-based versions.
      • File storage in OneDrive, up to 1tb per user.
      • Exchange Server.
      • IM, teleconferencing, video conferencing.
    • E3 – $4.50/month per user – Everything included in E1 plus:
      • The fully installable version of Office and mobile apps.
      • AD management.
  • There’s another option that may make the most sense for many.
    • Combine the free E1 with O365 ProPlus for Nonprofits (only $2.00/month per user), listed at the bottom of the web page!
    • The O365 ProPlus for Nonprofits option includes the fully installable version of O365 and mobile apps.

Can You Still Just Buy Office 2016?
Many prefer to just buy their Office app, paying a one-time fee with no further subscription fees. You can still do that, and the charity licensing cost is still about the same; just contact your preferred vendor.

So whether you only want the installable version of Office, or want to add to that an Exchange server and more, Microsoft O365 now makes a lot of sense for many more Christian churches and ministries.

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