Quick Tips: Migrating Nonprofit SharePoint Files

If you work for a 10-100 person Nonprofit, and you are all working remotely, document storage and sharing may be the bane of your existence. If saving and sharing files is frustrating, read on.

If you use Office 365, you have access to SharePoint. But because many nonprofits don’t manage their files proactively or train staff – new or old – on where and how to save and share documents, you may be frustrated. If you are only partially using SharePoint, planning to move your files to SharePoint to create better rhyme and reason, or trying to get buy-in for an organization-wide reorganizing to make use of a tool you already use, these quick tips on migrating nonprofit SharePoint files can help.

These issues are reflected in a set of fairly common questions, which we can consolidate into: “If we move over to SharePoint, how would you recommend migrating when there are so many documents, some from the 90s, on our old and failing server? Can we move the existing file structure entirely, or do we need to start over from scratch? We have some institutional reluctance to embrace change, hence the very old server.”

Even when you have dissatisfaction with your existing file sharing and storage practices, it may seem like a huge and intimidating project to migrate to SharePoint. Here are some tips from our experience over the past few years which should make it easier.

If you feel like your recent file structure is in pretty good shape and reflects your organization team structure and permissions well, you may still be ready to move to SharePoint. Community IT recommends cloud-based file sharing platforms as physical servers grow old and our expectation that we must “go to the office” to access files and collaborate also grows old and obsolete. Because so many nonprofits are already using Office 365 in the cloud, SharePoint brings some advantages, but there are many file sharing solutions available to consider.

First: Boots on the Ground

Who is going to do this work? Who cares about this situation at your organization? You need at least one person passionately cheerleading for the change to SharePoint. Ideally this is someone who has experience using SharePoint and is comfortable explaining the concrete benefits to cleaning up, organizing, and moving your shared files. Additionally, this person doing the work should have the authority or have help to push internal cultural changes and be able to lead updates to staff training. Without staff using the new SharePoint system, those files won’t be accessible and easy to use. If your organization doesn’t have any SharePoint users, find someone from your network who can cheerlead. 

The more colleagues you can find who would be willing to work on this together, the less time it will take each member of the migration team. But even one person can manage this migration if they are given the time and support to do it.

Next: Enlist Leadership

Hopefully you have someone on the leadership team – a decision maker – who also recognizes your need to move to SharePoint in the cloud and hears and understands the current frustrations with document sharing. 

It can be helpful to gather your evidence: how much time do staff waste searching multiple locations where the file they need might be located? How long does it take to save a file “where it is supposed to be” – and is it easy to learn and do, or is it time consuming? How do staff save and share files now? Is it different practices for everyone on an individual level? How often do staff recreate a document because they can’t find the original?

You can gather this evidence informally, in a venting session, or with the help of a consultant. Sometimes it takes someone from outside the organization to see what is odd and cumbersome about a system everyone is familiar with.

Where to Start?

Even though there may be a huge number of current and historical documents, when migrating to SharePoint and migrating files off of legacy file servers, it helps to think more in terms of the number of staff than the number of files. Think about document access in terms of the staff who are with the organization now and the work that they need to do, now. 

How can you design the new system to make it as easy for them to do that work as possible? 

Focus on migrating the active documents that they’re using. Create new document libraries based on how the organization or even how individuals work, and identify what needs to get moved over first into these new document libraries for people to keep doing the work that they’re doing.

Training Training Training

Rather than make a hard switch with a single training and cutoff date, remember that staff training can be staggered along with when they will start using SharePoint. A gradual transition may be more manageable, or you may opt for the cutoff date, depending on your organizational culture. 

Once trained on saving documents going forward, how to share within and outside of your organization, and how to find “old” files, staff pain points should decrease as everyone uses the new SharePoint system. Create a mechanism to check back in often – this helps both clarify any missed training or lingering questions and helps reinforce the perception that the new file system is working well.

With larger organizations, you may want to start within teams or departments, using the same philosophy of identifying cheerleaders, training your early adopters, and helping each team one at a time migrate their active files to do the jobs they need to do now.

What About the Old Files? What if we need one of those photos from our 2011 gala?

A common practice in migrating nonprofit SharePoint files is to create a repository in SharePoint for archive documents. Move everything older than 3 years off the server into an archive library that only a few people have access to. Put the files in the SharePoint archive in the exact same folder structure that they were in on the old server.

When to Use a Forklift

A forklift tool lifts your folder structure as-is onto the cloud file server. You must be mindful of size limit restrictions on individual files and collectively when you use such a tool. Community IT strongly recommends using a migration tool in most situations. There are several excellent tools that are not that expensive and are worth the investment. 

If your team is satisfied with the file structure of the last three years of files, you may want to forklift them over to SharePoint just to move them off the physical server, without needing any other changes, updates, or reorganization. If you are lucky enough for this to be true, you will only need to train staff on the new basics of saving and sharing files in SharePoint.

However, if you use this migration to also clean up your file and team structures, access, permissions, and practices, you will only want to forklift over the files that are 3+ years old to create an archive. For more recent files, your migration team and each user or team will be creating a new architecture and migrating the past 3 years of files appropriately.

Manage Access to the Archive

You’ll find people initially have anxiety around the idea that they will need a file they can’t access in the archive. Make it clear that when staff need something in the archive that they used to have access to, there is a designated person to help them find it. This person should be a SharePoint champion, perhaps a member of the migration team.

There will be a period of transition, but once people start using the new system, within a couple months, they’ll adapt. You’ll find that 99% of the files in the archive never get accessed, and people realize and relax, secure in the knowledge the files haven’t been deleted.

It’s usually important to manage access to the archive, because if everyone has access to all the files there is little chance of the new structure succeeding. You’ll end up with the same structure that didn’t work on the old server not working in SharePoint. However, depending on the state of the older files and the adaptability of your staff, you may not need to strictly limit access to older files – or in reality access may naturally limit itself as the new file structure addresses 99% of staff needs.

Quick Tips Summary:

There’s no universal way to set up SharePoint. SharePoint is always individualized per organization, so you can use the process of setting it up to your advantage, to make it truly address the needs of your staff.

To be clear, there are times that nonprofits need to reorganize their files. But the presence of old files doesn’t necessarily mean a folder hierarchy is a mess and needs remediation. Every migration to SharePoint doesn’t need to make a major project out of reorganizing the entire organization’s folder structure. Existing hierarchies have a lot of value in their familiarity. 

Once your nonprofit can answer the questions on how much time staff waste searching multiple locations for the file they need, then the decision to seize the migration as an opportune time to reorganize will become clear.

If you design your SharePoint access around the ways your people are working now and anticipate how they will be working over the next few years, it increases buy-in. When accessing and sharing files is painful for staff, that’s a big motivator. But because people are afraid of the unknown, it helps to have your cheerleaders in place. As soon as some people are using the new system, have them help tell everyone else how well it works.

Ready to get strategic about your IT?

Community IT has been serving nonprofits exclusively for twenty years and we have done a lot of SharePoint migrations. In addition, we offer Managed IT support services for nonprofits that want to outsource all or part of their IT support and hosted services. For a fixed monthly fee, we provide unlimited remote and on-site help desk support, proactive network management, and ongoing IT planning from a dedicated team of experts in nonprofit-focused IT.

We constantly research and evaluate new technology to ensure that you get cutting-edge solutions that are tailored to your organization, using standard industry tech tools that don’t lock you into a single vendor or consultant. And we don’t treat any aspect of nonprofit IT as if it is too complicated for you to understand.

We think your IT vendor should be able to explain everything without jargon or lingo. If you can’t understand your IT management strategy to your own satisfaction, keep asking your questions until you find an outsourced IT provider who will partner with you for well-managed IT.

If you’re ready to gain peace of mind about your IT support, or just need a little extra bandwidth for migrating nonprofit SharePoint files, let’s talk.