What Is SharePoint? Nonprofits’ Frequently Asked Questions

What is SharePoint?

While SharePoint is a platform for building and maintaining websites, SharePoint sites can offer a wide variety of functionality. At Community IT we mostly focus on the fact that SharePoint sites offer a platform for storing, sharing and collaborating on documents, and that is how most nonprofit staff will think of SharePoint.

While SharePoint was originally a separate Microsoft product that ran on a server, it is now a well-integrated member of Microsoft’s suite of cloud services: Microsoft Office 365. If you have Microsoft 365, you have SharePoint. If you are not using it to collaborate with your colleagues, or if you are finding it frustrating or hard to use, read on for some tips and answers to your questions! 

You can also view our webinar video on SharePoint Online for Your Nonprofit here.

Or download our Guide to Remote Work: Microsoft SharePoint and Teams here.

What is the difference between SharePoint and OneDrive? 

OneDrive is private storage associated with a specific user. Documents can be shared on a case by case basis, but are otherwise private. OneDrive is a subset of SharePoint (it uses SharePoint as its backend) and we encourage users to think of OneDrive as “My SharePoint.” 

SharePoint is shared cloud file storage, not private cloud file storage. It is designed to store files accessible to groups or to all staff.

If you have gotten comfortable using OneDrive, the skills you’ve acquired will apply well to using collaborative SharePoint document libraries. 

What is the difference between SharePoint and Microsoft Teams? Can I use them together?

Teams is a collaborative workspace that Microsoft is putting a lot of focus on. Microsoft would like Teams to be for groups what Outlook is for an individual person. In Outlook, you have your mail and your contacts and your calendar all in one place. In Teams, a group of people can have their chats, their files, other Office 365 services and even external services all bundled up in one user interface. Teams is also great for video calls and calendar scheduling. 

But Teams is primarily a “user interface.” It doesn’t actually store files. What Microsoft has done is leveraged SharePoint as the backend to save documents in Teams.

This means that users can access a document through SharePoint or through their Teams workspace. That Microsoft has made all its tools and services compatible and integrated should make for easy use, but it can also be confusing to the user, who doesn’t really care where the document lives, as long as it is easy to access and share.

From the administrative standpoint, you can think of Teams as the doorway to a SharePoint library. From a user’s point of view, small groups of people who work on documents together may access that document most conveniently through Teams. They do not need to think about the fact that its SharePoint on the backend. This is Microsoft’s design. 

And yes, you can have some document repositories accessed primarily through Teams while others are accessed through the traditional SharePoint web access. 

Can SharePoint store ANY files?

SharePoint is not a good file sharing service for database files or large data set files. It does great with PDFs, but not with graphic programs like Adobe’s InDesign or Illustrator – Adobe’s cloud service would be a better choice.

If you’re a video editor, Microsoft Office365’s Stream service (which also uses SharePoint as its backend) may be a good place to store and share finished files, but when actively working on projects, the bandwidth is not sufficient for all that back and forth between the cloud and a local computer. Note however that SharePoint does have capacity limits and video uses capacity relatively quickly.

Special Cases

SharePoint is a good general-purpose document sharing system. When you start getting into special cases, you often find that there are special products for files where confidentiality is an important factor, like legal files or HIPAA compliant files. While SharePoint can be configured and your staff can be trained to provide the necessary security, you may find more value in going with a purpose-specific online file system if you have special confidentiality needs.

Which cloud file storage service do you recommend?

There are a number of different services that you might consider for your organization’s cloud file storage provider, including SharePoint, Box, Google Drive, and Dropbox. Reasons SharePoint may rise to the top of your consideration:

Pricing for Nonprofits 

Microsoft makes the entry level tier of enterprise Office 365 free to qualified 501(c)(3) organizations. We also recommend the Microsoft 365 Business Premium offering, which qualified organizations can get 10 licenses of for free (additional licenses are $5/user/month).

I hear organizing SharePoint is complicated – is that true?

It used to be a lot more complicated, but since Microsoft has reoriented its use design around a “sync model” in which users generally interact with SharePoint document libraries through a sync’d copy of the files on their workstation (an approach pioneered and popularized by Dropbox), we have found barrier to entry relatively low. 

We now recommend that SharePoint be organized much like your file server is now, which can make the architecture and design of SharePoint libraries far less arduous than it used to be. That said, if your file server is a disorganized mess, ordering those folders will be a requirement of a SharePoint migration. 

The change management needed to get users on-board with SharePoint is also less demanding than it once was. We typically recommend two or three 90-minute trainings as part of our SharePoint implementations. 

Will we be able to get rid of our file server?

We have successfully transitioned quite a few clients away from having an on-premise file server and using OneDrive and SharePoint in their place. 

Some caveats: file servers are sometimes hosting large video files, database files (Quickbooks, Microsoft Access, etc.) and other services for which SharePoint is not an effective platform. If your file server is providing these additional services, you’ll need to find other solutions (and – by way of encouragement – other solutions do exist) to address those requirements. 

What about backups? Do I need to back-up my files if they are in SharePoint Online?

We recommend third party backups, because just because your data is in the cloud doesn’t mean that it’s protected to your organization’s requirements. Microsoft takes snapshots of its customers’ SharePoint sites every 12 hours and maintains those snapshots for 14 days. So if a virus on your computer (not Microsoft’s) infects your SharePoint library and makes all the files unreadable (less unlikely than one might think), you could open an incident with Microsoft and they could roll back your library to the point it was at up to 12 hours before the infection. Note that this process could take several days, during which SP wouldn’t be available. See this online resource.

According to a 2013 survey by the Aberdeen Group, the most common reason for SaaS data loss was end user deletion with the second most due to employee overwriting of data elements shared by others. SaaS providers may provide multiple warnings about making sure data changes are desired before the application is closed but end users will still make mistakes. SharePoint mediates these risks by providing a recycle bin and versioning control, but in our experience these tools are not infallible.

Our Best Practice is to deploy a third party backup solution. Implementing a third party backup solution provides more ownership and control over a potential recovery. Instead of waiting for Microsoft to approve the recovery request the organization would be able to initiate a restore based on their own requirements and timeline. SaaS applications provide a high level of performance and availability, but it is still important to protect and maintain access to those files outside of the vendor’s system.

Are there prerequisites for Office 365 SharePoint?

All computers need to be running the latest version of the Windows or MacOS operating system. Office Desktop Suite should be the subscription “evergreen” version. 

Do I have unlimited space in Office 365 SharePoint for my files?

No. OneDrive provides 1 TB of storage capacity per user, which is so much that it feels unlimited. But for SharePoint (which again, is also the backend for Teams files and Stream video files and more), the enterprise plans that Community IT’s nonprofit customers generally subscribe provides 1 TB of storage plus 0.5 GB per subscribed user. You can pay for additional storage you need in excess of that. 

At charity pricing, Microsoft charges $2.40/GB/year for additional Office 365 SharePoint storage capacity.

With data in the cloud, you can access it from anywhere. You can also easily protect it with multifactor authentication. Cloud-based systems can be secured remotely, which can be an enormous advantage in times of physical disasters such as a flood or fire, or cyber disaster such as a hack attempt.

Need other remote working solutions?

SharePoint and Teams have made working from home even easier, saving a lot of stress for remote workers.

At Community IT, we have supported nonprofits as they have moved to the cloud, and helped enable remote workers for years. We know that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for remote support that works. We accurately assess, implement, and manage cloud solutions for nonprofit organizations so that you can spend your time building your remote team, not worrying about the technology to support them.

We created this roundup of remote work tips and resources to assist our community.

And we always consider cybersecurity concerns front and foremost as we help our clients and community work successfully from home.

We hope this article answered your questions on what is SharePoint.

Ready for IT support you can depend on?

Our process is based on 25 years of exclusively serving nonprofits. Our technicians have certifications across all major platforms, and we constantly research and evaluate new solutions to ensure that you get cutting-edge solutions that are tailored to the needs of your organization.

We regularly present webinars at Community IT about nonprofit technology issues, and we work hard to keep our nonprofit technology community informed and engaged in best practices, including this IT support for nonprofits guide.

If your organization needs an assessment of whether SharePoint is right for you or could be better utilized at your organization, implementation support to help move to SharePoint or improve your SharePoint, or have other file storage or Office365 needs to assess, let’s talk.