Time to get with Google Docs?

Is your organization using Google Docs yet?

Writing grants, preparing presentations, sharing spreadsheets—Google Docs has become a standard tool for collaborative document development.  For nonprofits, it’s one of the easiest and most efficient ways to manage both internal projects and those with outside clients or partners. It can save time spent on meetings and making sense of multiple drafts and comments, and it can foster collaborative thinking and creativity.

The old way to share documents was to send them as email attachments. The documents “lived” on your computer. Every time you sent one, you were really sending a copy, not the original version. If you sent a draft of a proposal to three people for comment, there were four versions of the document. Likely the copies you sent spawned more copies, as the recipients then shared their drafts, and then created new ones to send back to you. The result—a sprawling, hard-to-keep-track-of family of related but different documents in different places.

Docs can vastly improve workflow by changing how you think about digital documents. In Docs, your documents don’t live on your computer, they live on the Internet. The software allows you to securely share any document created with people you choose, and lets people revise and contribute as needed. When you enter the e-mail addresses of those who are working on a project, they will be sent an e-mail stating that a document has been shared. You can specify whether each recipient gets read-write access or view-only access.

In Google Docs, documents can be saved to a user’s local computer in a variety of formats including Microsoft Office, HTML, and PDF. They’re saved to Google’s servers to prevent data loss, and a revision history is automatically kept. The service is supported by most major Web browsers. Documents can be tagged, classified, and archived for organizational purposes.

For those who are used to Word’s Track Changes function, Google Docs provides a similar feature. Changes and additions made by contributors are visible in real time, and you can see all the iterations separately or together. But unlike in Track Changes, all the changes are on a single copy of the document. Multiple contributors can work on a document at the same time, allowing them to avoid duplicating work and to stay on top of changes and additions. This way, groups avoid wasting time managing drafts—reviewing, changing, sending back, and comparing countless versions of the same file.

Google Docs is one of many cloud computing document-sharing services, and one of the only free ones (up to 1 G, more storage is available for small fees.) If you get the Google Cloud Connect plug-in for Microsoft Office, you can automatically store and synchronize Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and Excel spreadsheets, with the Google Doc copy automatically updating each time the Office document is saved. (This way, Microsoft Office documents can be edited offline and synchronized later when online.)

There are now thousands of free templates to use in Google Docs, including those for infographics, meeting minutes, communications plans, event feedback survey, business plans, presentation checklists, timecards, business cards, fixed rate calculators, press releases, project timelines, and travel expenses.

And one more reason to start using Google Docs? It works with most mobile apps, including Android, iPhone and iPad.  Mobile users can create, view, and edit, and create Google Docs documents, spreadsheets, and presentations wherever they are—a lifesaver when you’re working under a grant deadline or other tight schedule and need quick revisions and contributions.

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