Building a Virtual Office for a Non-Profit

In my work with non-profits, I have evaluated and implemented many tools and services to efficiently and simply support the administrative, accounting, constituent and relationship management, payroll, and other functions. In this article, I’d like to share some of my favorites. I am not being paid by, nor do I receive a referral from any of these vendors.

Virtual Office

The foundation of an effective organization is its ability to communicate. This includes not only person-to-person communication and organizing work files, but also the basic things like having a phone number and handling paper mail.

Google Workspace

Google Workspace (free to non-profits) offers the full suite of productivity tools including email and file storage/sharing. Some organizations I have worked with have an informal collection of files, usually in the form of a box full of printouts. Others have a loosely organized set of electronic files, often shared among past and current Board members or staff. Google Workspace can pull all of an organization’s files and communication into a single place, allowing for smooth continuity between staff and Board transitions.


With a small group of remote staff, one organization needed a lightweight virtual phone system. It didn’t need anything on the scale of a full phone system, just the ability to publish a main phone number, route calls appropriately via a call tree, and accept voicemail messages when staff wasn’t available. Grasshopper offered us these features at a reasonable price. As I write this article, Grasshopper offers a $312/year service with one phone number and three extensions, which includes the phone number, custom greetings, a calling tree with call routing, call forwarding, voicemail (including voicemails delivered in mp3 format to email).


An organization with a virtual office may want or need a physical mailing address to receive official communication, tax notices, bank statements, business license renewals, and even donations. ScanMailboxes, based in Austin, TX, offers just such a service. You can find many other, similar services, that provide your organization with a permanent USPS mailing address, scan the outside of the mail, post the scan on a website where you can ask for the item to be destroyed, forwarded to another physical address, or opened and scanned. ScanMailboxes, at a small extra cost, will also deposit checks (e.g., donations) on your behalf. This is a tremendous time-saver for a busy staff of a small organization. In my experience, their service is reliable, and their customer support is quite good.


Little Green Light

Little Green Light (LGL) is a rock solid web-based donor tracking system. LGL integrates with web donation forms and payment gateways like PayPal, but its strength lies is the massive flexibility in filtering donor reports. In real-time, you can whittle down, for example, donations by date range, category, fund type, amount — just about anything you can think of. It may not have all the bells and whistles of some of the big names on donor management software, but for a small or medium-sized non-profit, it’s a great fit. Capterra has a more detailed review of LGL.

Wild Apricot

Wild Apricot provides a solid membership management system, tracking contacts, members, member types and levels. It also supports flexible email blasts, event registration, a member directory, and a basic organization website with member-restricted pages. It is an effective service, though I have not researched alternatives in a few years.


Quickbooks Online

Quickbooks Online (QBO) is the go-to service for a full featured web-based accounting system. QBO is effective at providing staff access to a shared accounting system.


For a small organization with simple accounting needs (tracking customers, sales, payments), Wave offers a free, easy-to-use, web-based accounting system. Features like handling online and credit card payments and payroll are available at an extra cost. Having been a satisfied Quickbooks (deskop) and Quickbooks Online user for many, many years, I was delighted to switch to Wave’s free service. I have been using Wave for two years already and could not be more pleased.


Over the years, I have used two services for processing payroll: Gusto and JustWorks. Fundera has a nice review of when you might use one vs. the other in their article “Gusto vs. Justworks: Which Is Best for Your Business?” from August 5, 2020. The features comparisons and pros and cons the article describes are accurate and consistent with my experience.

While both Gusto and Justworks can handle payroll and HR-related tasks, they are two pretty different platforms. Gusto is first and foremost a payroll solution and offers a handful of add-ons to handle some basic HR functions. Justworks, on the other hand, is a PEO (or professional employer organization), meaning they provide comprehensive HR, benefits, payroll, compliance, and other administrative services.


After managing payroll myself — manually — for a small non-profit for several years, I switched to Gusto. Payroll virtually ran itself. It was simple, easy to use, and customer support was solid. If you are looking for processing payroll, Gusto might be a good fit.


As the non-profit added staff, we needed a more sophisticated tool. After researching the alternatives, we landed on JustWorks. JustWorks is a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), which, to some extent, can be your HR office. A PEO becomes the employer of record and handles payroll and tax filings as well as provides HR support and, due to its size, offers a wider and more cost-effective selection of benefits that a small organization might not have access to. The JustWorks “What is a PEO” reference has more detail. Capterra has overview and review of JustWorks.

Board Management

Every Board I have worked with has challenges keeping track of official organizational documents, board member terms and committee assignments, meeting agenda and minutes, and reports. I have just started exploring web-based Board Management services. If anyone has experience with these, I’d appreciate your letting me know in the comments.



Every non-profit should be aware of TechSoup. TechSoup offers discounted, often deeply-discounted, pricing on everything from Microsoft products, Adobe products, and, yes, even Quickbooks and Quickbooks Online. Signup is straightforward, and there is no fee to use their service. (They do tack on a minimal “Administrative Fee” when you purchase a product through them.)

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