Posey's Tips & Tricks

Microsoft Makes Office 365 Freely Available to Nonprofits

Think your organization might qualify? Here are the requirements.

A couple of days ago, I was shopping for a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 for a project that I am working on. One of the issues that I ran into while doing so was that some of the sources that I tried to use required you to purchase an Office 365 subscription to go along with the Surface tablet. I've already got Office 365 and didn't want to have to purchase an extra subscription just to be able to buy a tablet. Eventually I found what I needed, but the experience got me curious about the differences between some of the Office 365 subscription options. As I researched the available options, I stumbled onto something unexpected. According to the Microsoft website, Microsoft makes Office 365 available for free to eligible nonprofit organizations.

As you would probably expect, Microsoft has some fairly stringent guidelines for who is eligible for a free Microsoft Office 365 subscription. I'll try to give you the short version, but if you think that your organization qualifies you will want to check out the link above just to make sure.

In order to qualify, an organization has to be a nonprofit or nongovernmental organization that is recognized as a legitimate charity. In the United States this means having a 501 (C)(3) status, but charities in foreign countries are also eligible. Public libraries are also eligible so long as the software is made available to the general public.

Having a charitable status alone is not enough to qualify for receiving a free Microsoft Office 365 subscription. In addition, the charitable organization must operate in a way that directly benefits the local community. The examples that Microsoft gives of such organizations include:

•Providing relief to the poor
•Advancing education
•Improving social welfare
•Preserving culture
•Preserving or restoring the environment
•Promoting human rights
•Establishment of civil society

In addition, there are a number of different types of organizations that are not eligible for free access to Office 365. The types of an eligible organizations that Microsoft lists at the Web site noted above include:

  • Nonprofit organizations that have not received charitable status
  • Government organizations
  • Schools, colleges and universities
  • Healthcare organizations
  • Professional, commerce, and trade associations
  • Sponsorship of events, tables, exhibitions, or performances
  • Fundraising events such as luncheons, dinners, walks, runs, or sports tournaments
  • Political, labor, and fraternal organizations
  • Refurbishers (organizations that install software onto refurbished computers and donate them to charitable organizations)
  • Individuals

Even if an organization qualifies under Microsoft's guidelines, there are a number of different rules that the organization must adhere to. Most of these rules pertain to which persons affiliated with the organization are allowed to receive Office 365 licenses, but there are also some rules related to the organization's nondiscrimination policy.

So what do you do if you work for a nonprofit organization, need Office 365, but are ineligible according to the rules listed above? Well, you are not necessarily out of luck. Microsoft does make some exceptions to the rules listed above. Furthermore, there are sometimes workarounds for ineligible organizations. For example, I mentioned that refurbishers are ineligible. However, Microsoft has a Registered Refurbisher Program that may be worth checking out (I don't know any details about this program).

Microsoft's exceptions to the policies listed above are primarily related to healthcare organizations. As a general rule, healthcare organizations are not eligible for free Office 365 subscriptions even if they are operating as a nonprofit. However, Microsoft does make exceptions for, to quote Microsoft, "independent nonprofit organizations with the following missions: community, behavioral and women's health clinics; hospices; emergency services; and blood, tissue and organ banks."

Microsoft offers a number of different Office 365 subscription options, so you may be curious as to what type of subscription eligible nonprofits receive. There are actually four different options. Two of the options are free and the other two are deeply discounted. The free options are Office 365 Nonprofit Business Essentials and Office 365 Nonprofit E1. The deeply discounted options include Office 365 Nonprofit Business Premium (which costs $2.00 per user per month) and Office 365 Nonprofit E3 (which costs $4.50 per user per month). You can see what is included in each of these subscriptions here.


About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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