A Comparison of Microsoft's Office 365 and Google Apps for Nonprofits

Is your nonprofit considering the cloud?

Office 365 for Nonprofits and Google Apps for Nonprofits are both compelling options.

Your success will depend mainly on how well your organization’s culture fits with these two companies’ visions. On the one side you have Microsoft with its focus on hierarchy, security, and centralized control. On the other hand you have Google with a decentralized, user-empowered approach.

We'll break down our analysis of platform features, license pricing and an overall summary for you below.

Interface Preferences

The biggest differentiator between Office 365 and Google Apps is the interface.

Google Apps silos individual functionality into different websites and expects every user to use a web-browser. Outlook and other desktop application integration is limited or nonexistent.

Office 365 anticipates that many users will utilize the Office Suite to extend Office 365. While there are web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook power-users will typically utilize the desktop applications as often as the web apps. Functionality between the different applications is often blended with multiple ways to accomplish specific goals or access calendars, contacts, etc.

In the end, both have benefits. Google Apps can be simpler to use and can be more familiar to users who grew up with Google products. Office 365 is easier to use for staff who have utilized Microsoft products for years and who want the decades of functionality built by Microsoft into the Office suite. Office 365 can be confusing due to its ever increasing feature list and the many ways to accomplish the same task.

Centralized Management

Google Apps was created in highly decentralized organizations where end-users wanted to be able to get their work done quickly and without involvement from management or IT. In Google Apps, every file is owned by a specific user and every user has a great degree of freedom over sharing content. Security controls were added on later.

Office 365 for Nonprofits was designed from the beginning as a tool for IT administrators. As a result, it has a great deal more centralized control than Google Apps. Sharing locations are controlled by IT and not tied to a specific user, complex preservation policies allow for file content to be maintained for a designated length of time, and most features can be turned off if desired.

Both tools can meet the compliance needs of organizations. The real determining factor is the sophistication of staff. If users can be trusted to properly structure files, keep sensitive information in secure locations, and configure their own tools to their liking, Google Apps is a good solution. For organizations where staff expect IT to make decisions for them, Office 365 will be an easier fit.

Interoperability Needs

Google Apps and Office 365 do not work particularly well together. A document created in Google Apps can’t be placed in an Office 365 SharePoint Site and Google Apps will convert any Office document uploaded to Google Drive into Google format. Users on either platform can easily share individual documents and send emails to any other organization. However, extensive collaboration (particularly those requiring a shared work space) will be difficult cross platform.

Most nonprofits live in the Microsoft-dominated foundation, healthcare, and government worlds. For these Office 365 tends to make things easier. For nonprofits that live in education, technology, and other Google-dominated worlds Google Apps could be a better fit.

Consolidated Platform

Google Apps is a platform-agnostic web-based solution. It does not seek to meet the security or management needs of entire organizations. As a result 3rd party tools are needed to manage various aspects of a nonprofits technology. These tools exist, are as good or better than Microsoft tools, and can be integrated with Google Apps, but they require greater effort and the costs can add up quickly.

Office 365 provides a consolidated platform that can integrate collaboration, monitoring, device management, encryption, and a dozen other technologies. Microsoft owns an entire technology stack that can support every aspect of a nonprofits technology needs.

It is possible to achieve a similar solution with Google Apps, but your organization will need to convert from Windows or Mac desktops to Chromebooks. These specialized devices include sophisticated device management tools and are easy to control, but they are a big change for users.



It's important to plan for the ongoing operational expense of cloud licensing. We've summarized a price comparison of Google Apps for Nonprofits and Office 365 for Nonprofit licensing in the chart below.

Note that the nonprofit offering of Google Apps is for G Suite Basic. You can find a comparison of Google Apps licenses here. The Office 365 free license is an E1 license and you can find comparisons here.

Note that Educational Institutions are eligible under separate license offers.

O365 google pricing table-1.png

Pricing shown above is not cumulative.

For most nonprofits, the effective result is that Google Apps is significantly more expensive than Office 365 once any security or compliance needs are taken into account. This does not apply to educational institutions where the free functionality meets most needs.


So What's Best for Your Nonprofit, Google Apps or Office 365?

Consider what we've outlined above and have conversations with your staff and leadership about:

  • Interface Preferences
  • Centralized Management Needs
  • Interoperability Needs
  • Desire for a single consolidated platform


Google Apps may be the best fit if:
  • Your organization trusts its users and wants to empower them to make tech related decisions.
  • If you don’t feel a strong need for centrally enforced policies.
  • If your users are technology-eager and excited to bend it to their will.
    You can follow this approach in Office 365 but it’ll cost you in configuration time and user confusion.

Office 365 may be the best fit if:

  • Your organization wants to reduce the number of decisions your staff make about where and how to store things.
  • If you have a ton of highly sensitive data you don’t particularly trust your staff to deal with carefully.
  • If your staff is very familiar and tied to the Microsoft Productivity Suite
    You can add this approach in Google Apps but it’ll cost you significantly in terms of licensing and will never quite get to the same level.

Once you have a general idea of what you need, speak with a solution agnostic partner (like us!) who can walk you through licensing details and implementation options. Tech Impact's nonprofit technology experts are here for you if you'd like to set up some time to talk through your options. 

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