There’s no question that digital documents have supercharged productivity since the earliest versions of word processing software. Decades later, it now seems that nearly everything exists not just digitally, but beyond our laptops and desktops — in the cloud.

The cloud-first world we live in today has allowed for levels of collaboration, security, mobility, and productivity never thought possible. But with more solutions at our disposal, we are also challenged to use these tools effectively. And this can be a daunting task to nonprofits primarily focused on their missions.

Let’s take a look at some strategies for effective digital document management, along with some of the tools available to your nonprofit.

You Are Likely Using Cloud-Based Tools Already

If you’ve ever uploaded a file to the Internet for someone else to download and review, you’ve enjoyed the benefits of cloud-based document storage. In fact, storing items in the cloud has become so commonplace and user-friendly that you are likely already doing so in your day-to-day operations. There are several cloud storage solutions available to you, including Box, Google Drive, Microsoft SharePoint Online, and Adobe Document Cloud (DC).


Box is a cloud-based content management and file-sharing tool that can be used to store, send, and collaborate on just about anything you digitally produce at your nonprofit. It’s easy to set security settings on files, and a seamless Office 365 integration allows you to edit Word documents, PowerPoint slides, and more, directly in the program without ever needing to download the file itself.

Google Drive

Google Drive is a popular way for both organizations and individuals to store, share, and collaborate on documents, sheets, and slide presentations online. It’s a key component of Google Workspace, which includes Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and more. Each individual user can store up to 30 GB of documents (including photos) between Gmail and Google Drive.

Microsoft SharePoint Online

SharePoint Online is a cloud-based collaborative platform that allows you to set up an employee intranet and create spaces to store and access documents (both internally and externally). SharePoint Online is part of the Office 365 bundle, and integrates seamlessly with Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Organizations can access up to 1 TB of storage per user.

Adobe Document Cloud (DC) — Acrobat Pro DC

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC gives you the latest version of Acrobat along with the benefits of Adobe Document Cloud (DC). Adobe DC allows you to store and send files online, and it offers features that allow for e-signatures, document tracking, and more. Adobe Acrobat Pro DC integrates extremely well with Microsoft Word, making it easy to convert Word documents into editable PDFs and vice versa.

Although these three cloud-based programs vary in scope, intended use, and function, they are all solid solutions for storing and managing documents online. Many organizations use a combination of all three to some degree.

Set Up an Easy Naming Convention So You Can Find Files Easily

No matter which software you use, it’s important to develop a consistent naming system for all your files. Approaches to this differ, but whatever you choose, continue following that system.

One example of this is the following format: DATE_TITLE_AUTHOR. Here’s an example of a file named as such:
20180815_An Amazing Blog Post_SJ

This system is particularly helpful because it will automatically sort files by date. Beyond that, be mindful of folders and subfolders. Don’t be too broad — or too specific. The easier it is for people to navigate online storage, the better, because this ease of navigation translates into increased productivity and reduced clutter.

Manage Collaboration in the Cloud

One of the best features of cloud-based document management is the ability to collaborate on a single document from anywhere in the world. No matter which cloud solution you are using, there’s always functionality built in to edit, comment on, and share whatever it is you are working on — from any device.

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is a powerful tool in how it lets you create and edit PDF documents. For example, you can create a document and share it with an entire team of people, allowing multiple reviewers to see and build on each other’s comments — all with a just a single, trackable link.

Once collaborators are working on the document, multiple reviewers can leave comments, mention users, or easily search the document. In fact, even individuals without Acrobat Pro DC can participate in the process. As the owner of the document, you’ll also receive real-time updates whenever files are opened, commented on, or completed.

If you’re not ready to jump fully over to the cloud, you can still take a small step toward doing so. Make sure you are using a syncing system — like SharePoint or Box — to upload all your local files to the cloud for added protection and access.

Note that in the cloud, it’s still important to be mindful of how you name documents for collaborative purposes. If a document has undergone a full round of edits, it’s often a best practice to make a copy of it, rename it, and share it with the same group of people.

Use E-Signatures to Build Efficiency

Here’s a familiar scenario: You receive an email with a form attached that requires a signature. You download the form, print it out, sign it, scan or take a picture of it with your phone, and send it back as an attachment of your own. Although this routine is definitely an improvement from waiting for forms to be mailed from Postal Services, it’s still a clunky and cumbersome process. The solution? Use e-signatures.

DocuSign is a cloud-based service that allows you to upload and send documents for electronic signature. It lets you share a document with any user and allows them to add a signature from virtually any device. It should also be noted that the recipient does not need to have DocuSign software to add a signature.

There are many potential scenarios in which this is useful for nonprofits:

  • Fundraising: grant applications, membership renewals, and corporate sponsorship contracts
  • Human resources: policy distribution and acknowledgement, new employees, and change forms
  • Volunteer management: applications, waivers, and event registration
  • Procurement: vendor agreements, purchase orders, and scopes of work
  • Legal: nondisclosure agreements, licensing, and compliance documents
  • Finance: internal approvals, expense reporting, and auditing
  • IT: asset tracking, incident reporting, and maintenance authorization

DocuSign also integrates seamlessly with other solutions you may be using at your nonprofit, such as those by Microsoft, including Word, Outlook, SharePoint, and more. For example, you can send a Word document in need of a signature as single attachment, or send a document requiring a signature directly from Outlook. Other efficiency-building integrations are also available with products from Box, Google, Oracle, SAP, Apple, and Salesforce.

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC also provides e-signature functionality, by using e-signing and send and track services included with Acrobat Pro DC. Just create a PDF or a form, indicate a location for a signature, and send it to the intended recipient. That person can then sign from a laptop, desktop, smartphone, or tablet. You can also track who’s signed, filled out, and returned the document in real time. And if you’re using Office 365, don’t forget to take advantage of Acrobat Pro DC’s seamless integrations with programs like Word, PowerPoint, SharePoint, and Outlook.

Increase Security with Permissions Settings

Cloud-based digital document management offers robust control over who has access to files, as well as permissions to edit or modify them after they’re received. This functionality is particularly important when sending or collaborating on sensitive material.

Box allows for files and folders to be encrypted, and a centralized dashboard makes it easy to manage access to all your files from a single place. There are also remote logout and data-wiping functions. These functions can help prevent your data from getting into the wrong hands in the event of a theft or another unforeseen circumstance.
Adobe Acrobat Pro DC provides many choices of security settings for PDFs once they’ve been created. For example, you can click Restrict Editing to prevent anyone from editing or copying a file you send.

If you’re creating a file directly within Acrobat Pro DC, you can also select Publish Sensitive Information if you’re creating a file directly within Acrobat Pro DC. That action will set different restrictions, including the ability to redact information, password-protect, and prohibit copying and editing. You can even control whether or not your PDF can be printed.

When using productivity apps in Google Workspace (such as Docs, Sheets, and Slides), you can also restrict access. Use sharing settings to control who can only view and who can edit. You can also restrict access to only people within your organization.

Apps within Office 365 (such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) also allow for a wide range of access settings, as does SharePoint. Each offers options for sharing both internally (with others who have Office 365 in your organization) as well as externally. You can also make any Word document a read-only attachment, and control whether or not a particular document can be downloaded from SharePoint.

Furthermore, Office 365 provides additional security features that automatically scan for sensitive data and personally identifiable information. It can also provide checks to ensure that sharing is deliberate to prevent the accidental spread of sensitive information such as donor credit cards and the identities of beneficiaries.

Benefit from the Shift to Managing Documents in the Cloud

The world is rapidly migrating its information to the cloud, and this shift has provided remarkable improvements in the way we manage documents online. There’s no doubt that it’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.
But sitting down for a few moments here and there and understanding some basic tools already at your disposal will ultimately help you get more things done, more quickly. And that means you can spend less time tracking down revised documents and get back to what’s really important: the mission-driven work you do at your organization.