IT for Charities: A Guide

Our aim here was to provide small charities who lack advanced resources with a guide to help them overcome their everyday IT problems.

We contacted a vast number of charities about the idea and received much enthusiasm in response, with many certain it would be of great use to them.

We led the way by asking the question: “Is there one problem you are experiencing with your computers/IT network, which you would like an answer to?” 10 small charities responded, providing us with problems both unique to their current situations, as well as general inquiries that will appeal to a wider network. We put those concerns to our experts here at CANS, whose responses are recorded below in a comprehensible Q&A format.

Q: Can you give me some tips on working with old or outdated equipment and software?

A: The first step with working with old/outdated equipment is to keep the infrastructure as stable as possible. Any changes or new products or services can introduce errors or incompatibilities with older systems and if the budget is not available to upgrade key software and hardware then this could cause serious technical issues in the company.

When the infrastructure is stable, review what you have and identify the priority systems that are business critical and what software interacts with these. Once you have this information, start budgeting to upgrade the solution as a whole – for a life-cycle replacement or in the event of a failure.

Due to a higher risk of hardware failure, a reliable backup of key data will be essential. As an interim solution, you can try to disable visual effects in your system to make sure the power of your computer goes to actual applications you use, rather than to make your system beautiful. Also, reducing the number of open applications at the same time should speed up applications you actually use.

 

Q: At what point should we consider moving over to a cloud-based storage system?

A: The first and main point is the need for a strong, fast and reliable internet connection. Without this, stick to the local systems or your users will spend a lot of their time waiting on loading screens or nobody being able to work when the connection has failed.

The second point is asking why do you want to do it? In the case above, they need a reliable alternative to the server for the bespoke database. If the upfront cost of a server is too high, then an ongoing monthly cloud service cost could be more palatable. Depending on the service chosen, the provider should include an uninterruptible power supply, instant failover in the event of hardware failure, and replication to another data centre for disaster recovery. If a lower grade solution is chosen, then you will be at the mercy of the provider and the equipment they have in place, with any recovery of the database being completely out of your hands. The risks and rewards need to be considered depending on what you want to put into the cloud.

 

Q: What are the best (easiest to use and most cost effective) cloud systems on the market?

A: The term ‘cloud’ covers a very wide range of services, functions and methods of storing or accessing your systems. Most companies and charities will not suit a full cloud infrastructure due to cost, broadband connection and the general access speed to the cloud solutions.

For this reason, a hybrid local cloud solution fits more and more companies. The use of free Office 365 for charities is far more cost effective than a local Exchange server and has the full resource of Microsoft Office supporting it. Software providers are adding more web-based versions of their software that you can access from any location with internet, which does not restrict the user to one location.

By using a smaller local server for the file access speed, security management, cloud services for key software and emails, a small charity will have the speeds of a local service, without the large upfront costs and continual software upgrades associated with having all of the infrastructures on site.

 

Q: In regards to printers, what are some of the most common problems involving them and their solutions?

A: Some of the most regular printer issues are based on users’ preferences on the printers they use not matching what they want to achieve. For companies with a file and print server, this is easily resolved by setting company-wide policies so the basic configuration matches how the printer is used.

This can also improve security where users who print sensitive information are restricted to specific secure printers and not a public one that everyone has access to. This would remove most user related issues that arise; from volunteers who don’t know the charities policies to users who are not IT literate trying to select the right printer details for them.

 

Q: What is the best way of upgrading an old server to a new one whilst minimising downtime?

A: 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2013 are versions of MS Exchange, the software used for hosting business emails. 2003, 2008, 2008 R2 and 2012 and 2012 R2 are Windows Server operating systems. There are various upgrade paths available however none of them is an in-place upgrade and you most probably need another server to migrate to.

In addition to this, there is no upgrade path for Exchange 2003 to 2013. As for Windows operating system, without MS Exchange, it depends on what other roles and applications are hosted on the server, however, it is recommended to perform a migration rather than in place upgrade.

 

Q: What is the best (easiest) way of copying files and data from an old laptop to a new one?

A: If your computer is Windows 7 then you can use ‘Windows Easy Transfer’ utility which is part of the system. Windows 10 doesn’t have this tool anymore. If you feel confident copying folders in Windows, you can find your profile folder, which should be located under C:\Users and copy it onto an external memory stick. Then you can copy individual subfolders to your new profile on the new computer. You must be careful though not to overwrite any files.

 

Q: What is the best (most simple and cost effective) way of networking team members?

A: This would depend on the size of the team and what the team wants to achieve by networking. There isn’t a one solution fits all answer here, however basing the resolution on a 5 – 20 user charity, located at a single location, wanting to increase the security of their data and share files and folders, a small base domain controller server with charity donated Microsoft licensing would be the solution for you.

Microsoft Windows Server would provide the added security for users to connect into and help block unauthorised users’ access to your valuable data. Domain controller provides authentication services to all computers on the network, which effectively allows users to log in to all computers on the network using their own login details. Usernames and passwords are encrypted on the server and most of the settings can be enforced on member computers using policies on the server.

 

Q: Are there any programs or tools that small charities could be utilising that perhaps they aren’t aware of?

A: ’TT-Exchange’ is a scheme that collects different companies’ donated hardware and software (such as Cisco and Microsoft) and acts as a single point of contact for those charities interested in using it.

These licenses are controlled by different rules set by the individual companies, but can save tens of thousands of pounds (based on full RRP) off of a project’s cost. CANS ecommends that all charities apply to the scheme to find out what donations they qualify for, and how they can use them to work with enterprise grade equipment and solutions, at a budget cost.

 

Q: What are the best tools/software to help with people working remotely? Please take into consideration ease of use and cost.

A: With the use of the heavily discounted Microsoft charity licenses (through TT-Exchange), Microsoft Hosted Desktop Services would give an easy-to-use remote connection, where the users would log in using the remote desktop software that comes with any Windows or Mac PC or laptop, and access a desktop running on the server from any location with an internet connection. The desktop will be windows based, with the users able to access the charity network so it will feel as if they are working from the office, wherever they are.

 

Q: In poor broadband areas, what options are there to improve broadband access?

A: There are several things that you can try. The first would be to make sure you have an ADSL microfilter on your broadband line at the access point to the business. This would reduce any noise on the line which could degrade the service. If the issue is the location and distance from the exchange, however, then to improve the broadband speed there are three methods that you can try (the solution that fits best will depend on the exact location of the office and what is available to them):

  • A Shareband style of service, which combines multiple ADSL connections into a single faster line. This can get quite costly depending on the number of lines you would need and the excess construction costs for running the new cables to your office.
  • Satellite broadband. Providing good ADSL speeds without a direct connection. This may get interrupted during bad weather in the same way as satellite TV.
  • If there is a strong 4G connection in your area then it is likely that this would provide you with a fast connection. 4G is still restricted and may not be available in rural areas.
  • Also, localising services like data and emails by implementing a local server would reduce reliance on the Internet connection.

 

Q: Some of our Wi-Fi devices such an iPad and Laptop can’t communicate with our router. How do we resolve this? We have a Netgear DG834G v3.

A: The DG834G v3 router is a very old router with slow 100Mbps Ethernet ports and restricted to G band Wi-Fi. With this router, Apple products with the iOS 5.1.1 operating system appear to be incompatible with the firmware on the router and I would assume this is the case with the laptops mentioned.

If you want the devices to connect to the router Wi-Fi then replacing the router is the only advisable solution. Netgear and similar manufacturers have released numerous new routers in the £40-£50+vat bracket, which would provide far faster Wi-Fi access speeds and would be compatible with the new devices you are having difficulties with.

The IT industry is both fast moving and continually evolving, which is why hardware and software manufacturers generally recommend a life-cycle of replacing them every three years. It is possible to extend this lifecycle to five or more years but the chances of incompatibilities such as the one described will become more likely as time moves on. With security and network equipment, the age of the equipment will have a negative impact on the charity by slowing users down when working, technical issues, and outdated security measures allowing easy access to the charities systems. For the relatively low cost of a new router, it comes to a point that it is not worth the added business costs of extending a devices life.

 

Q: We use Dropbox so all staff can access and edit all documents – we don’t put confidential service user details on it as we are not confident it is secure enough – what ‘cloud’ would be secure enough if any?

A: We suggest using VPN to dial into the corporate network and access files directly on the server. VPN is encrypted and prevents data from being compromised in transit.

 

Q: Is there a free online calendar all members of a small charity can use to see each other’s diaries?

A: We suggest migrating emails to a new subscription of Office 365 which provides Email, Calendar, tasks etc. Microsoft offer Office 365 Business Essentials free of charge for Charities.

 

Q: Is it possible to edit a png or jpeg file and how?

A: Depending on the scope of modifications, you need a software capable of doing this. There is currently a lot of software available on the Internet, however, most are not free. A good free one, though, is called GIMP which has a range of powerful features you can try.

 

Q: How do you merge two images together to get a combination of the two?

A: There are many software manufacturers who have released image editing software. Most professionals use Adobe packages which have different packages to suit each users requirements.

 

Q: Is there a quick way of importing data from an excel or CSV file into an open office database, rather than manually inputting the data?

A: For open office databases, the capabilities for importing the data would depend on the software you are looking to use. As a professional organisation, CANS do not actively support free open office software.

Q: In CANS opinion/experience, how do small charities with limited resources manage their day to day IT issues when they don’t have a support contract, in-house skills or the budget to provide the aforementioned? What do CANS recommend best?

A: To reduce IT issues, you would need to minimise your IT infrastructure and make it as stable as possible with the minimum of changes. Equipment will get old and fail, be incompatible with the people you are communicating with or occasionally malfunction. For this, it is strongly advised to save what you can in a contingency fund for pay as you go support or new equipment; even an old refurbished machine with a heavy discount can be an upgrade if your equipment is even older and failing.

Thanks to everyone who contributed with questions for this guide to IT for charities, we couldn’t have put it together without your inside help. We hope this will be of use to many other charities and please feel free to forward or share this on to anyone who you think may benefit from seeing this.

Computer Eye Safety Tips – Remember to Blink!

If you work in an office you’ll spend at least 8 hours a day in front of a computer, sometimes even more if you go home and stare at a laptop screen all evening.

Spending such a vast amount of time in front of a screen can damage your posture and have a serious effect on your eyes. Therefore it’s essential that you take a proactive and open-minded approach toward “eye-gonomics” whilst you’re sat at your desk.

If you are experiencing eye strain or neck and shoulder problems, there’s a good chance that you’re doing it wrong at the moment and you need to revisit the way you behave in front of a screen.

The effect a computer screen can have on your eyes

Studies have shown that by spending just two hours on a laptop each day you can significantly increase eye pain and vision problems. So those of us who sit behind a computer everyday to earn a living and then go home and unwind in front of the TV must surely be feeling the strain.

First things first, take a step back and assess whether or not you have a problem with your eyes. Once you have determined that the endless hours in front of a computer screen are taking their toll, there are countless easy steps you can take to protect your eyes.

A few of our favourites are:

  • Minimsise the amount of glare by cleaning your screen regularly and ensuring that it’s the most brightly glowing thing in the room. Grey backgrounds also tend to be easier on the eyes than white.
  • Always remember to blink. When you are engrossed in a piece of work you can often forget to do it, but regularly blinking cleans the eyes and reduces strain.
  • Now it my be hard not to sit on the edge of your seat as you crack the code that was causing your website to break or when you finally make that killer Excel formula, but it’s extremely important to sit an arm’s length away from your screen. Make sure your screen is positioned right below eye level and not tilted.
  • Regular breaks are vitally important. One of our favourite techniques is what they call a “20-20-20 break.” All you do is that for every 20 minutes you are sat in front of a screen, take 20 seconds to have a look around and see what is going on 20 feet away from you. This is the perfect way to refocus your eyes and give them a quick break before getting back to work.
  • On the topic of breaks, make sure you take a lunch break away from your screen. If you have a big project on and can’t afford to take a long lunch, just take 15 minutes to stretch your legs and make a coffee.
  • If you feel the strain on your eyes, consider purchasing a stylish pair of glasses solely for computer use. If you are unsure about which glasses are right for you from a style perspective, take a look at this interesting guide that will tell you what the best glasses are for your face shape.

Now that you have a stronger idea of exactly what you need to do to improve the health of your eyes and minimise the effects that sitting in front of a screen can have, we challenge you to put them into practice. We are sure that after you make a few slight changes to your approach to working in front of a computer all day you will notice a difference.

If you are experiencing serious issues with your eyes or suffering from regular headaches after prolonged computer sessions, make sure you seek advice from your doctor or optician.

Let us know how you get on with our eye-gonomic tips by leaving a comment below… and don’t forget to blink!

How to clean your computer like a professional

It’s a lot easier to keep a computer clean than it is to organise one that’s already cluttered or infected; however, problems will inevitably occur as time goes on. Whether you need to remove malware or free up space, there are plenty of easy ways to clean your system without the help of a professional. In fact, most “professional” services will simply undertake standard default procedures that you could complete yourself in just a few hours.

This guide will take you through a variety of different cleaning techniques that will leave your system fresh, organized and free from harmful errors.

Note: the instructions in this article are written for Windows 10 and may vary slightly for older versions.

Uninstall Unwanted Programs

Unwanted programs can quickly build up and cause your system to run slowly, especially upon startup.

To remove unwanted programs:

  1. Press the “Start” icon in the bottom left corner of the desktop and navigate to “Control Panel.”
  2. Double-click “Uninstall a program.”
  3. Scroll through the list of installed programs and single-click the name to highlight new icons at the top of the screen.
  4. Click on the “Uninstall” icon and confirm the pop-up box by clicking “Yes.”
  5. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the uninstallation.

By highlighting the name of the program in the “Uninstall a program” section you can find out when it was last used. This could help you determine whether or not it’s worth keeping. Delete all of the programs that you don’t use or have no intention of using.

Remove Malware

Malware is a huge problem throughout the world and the number one cause of computer malfunction. Malware (short for malicious software) is essentially any form of harmful software such as viruses, worms and Trojans. Suffering from a malware infection will not only significantly slow down your system, but could also be used by hackers to steal your personal information.

For a detailed breakdown on the different types of malware and how it could affect your system read Sophos’ white paper, Exposing the money behind malware.

If your computer is suffering from a malware attack there’s not much you can do apart from download software and run scans. While it can often be deleted via the system registry, most tech professionals will simply factory restore your computer instead of going through the hassle of deleting files.

To delete malware:

  1. Download Malwarebytes for free from org and install the program.
  2. Open Malwarebytes and check the “Perform Quick Scan” box.
  3. Press “Scan” and wait for the process to complete.
  4. Tick all the boxes in the Scanner tab and press “Remove Selected.”
  5. If you still encounter problems, repeat this process, but conduct a Full Scan instead of a Quick Scan.

Malware can stem from the most unlikely places. Even some of the world’s most prestigious government websites have been subject to attacks. Prevention is often the only method of combat, so making sure you have up-to-date anti-malware software installed on your system is crucial.

Delete Internet Files

Internet files are the unsuspecting danger. While they don’t take up too much memory individually, they’ll often build up and become an annoyance.

clean 2

To delete your Internet files:

  1. Click the “Start” button in the bottom left corner of the desktop and navigate to “Control Panel.”
  2. Double-click “Network and Internet” and press “Internet Options.”
  3. Click on the “General” tab and press “Delete” from within the Browsing History section.
  4. Select “Delete all” and confirm by clicking “Yes” and “OK.”

Toolbars are the bane of the Internet and will significantly slow down your browsing. If you don’t use them, delete them using the “Uninstall Unwanted Programs” method above. In addition, consider removing data from your Downloads folder if you want to free up some space.

Factory Restore your System

Factory restoring is the most common and extensive form of cleaning. This procedure will completely remove all of your data and reinstall Windows. If you choose to take this route, back up any important data beforehand as it will get deleted during the process.

To perform a Windows 8 Reset:

  1. Press “Win-C” and click on the “Settings” tab from within the popup.
  2. Click “Change PC Settings” and navigate to “General.”
  3. Press “Remove Everything and Reinstall Windows,” and then click “Get Started.”
  4. Click “Next” and select “Clean the drive fully.”
  5. Press “Reset” and wait for approximately 15 minutes for the reinstallation to complete.
  6. Restart your computer.

How to clean your computer like a professional

A factory restore is only recommended as a last option or if you don’t mind losing all of your data. There are also other forms of system recovery that are less extensive. In order to perform these additional actions, follow the instructions above, but click a different option on step 4.

Conclusion

While most problems are easy to fix without professional assistance, you could save a great deal of time and effort by conducting these processes yourself.

There’s no substitute for good cleaning practices. A tidy PC will not only save you a headache when searching for files and folders, but will also keep your system functional, faster and more efficient.