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The Gift Horse Killed The Golden Goose

September 22, 2016

Good news. Google has a program for non-profit volunteers. We can use a version of privately branded gmail and give our volunteers all over the world email accounts.

Do they understand we have 58,000 volunteers?

Absolutely. They don’t have any restrictions on the number of people we put on the system.

What’s the catch?

No catch. We just need to sign their standard contract for non-profits.

As you might imagine, there was a catch. The contract. I was working for a large non-profit managing their email team. We had both employees and volunteers. For the 30,000 employees, we used Microsoft Exchange. Even with Enterprise licensing, it was a significant cost of doing business. For the volunteers, we used an ancient email system called NetMail. It was extremely unstable, and our volunteers had to dial into a local computer in our datacenter in Utah. The licensing costs for extending Exchange to those additional 58,000 volunteers would have been prohibitive. 

Google was going to not only improve the stability, but the features, and even lower our costs. It was almost too good to be true. 

Okay, it was too good to be true. 

Even though we were a non-profit organization, we were also a 30,000 strong business entity. We had everything a for-profit business has; IT (my department), Operations, Human Resources, Accounting and of course, Legal. Our lawyers took Google’s standard contract and started requesting changes. We sent our revisions from our offices in Utah to Google’s legal team in California. 

The important thing to remember is that Google was offering a free service. We had to write code to link our identity management system to Google’s system, of course. But, the technical hurdles were really pretty simple. We had them all worked out and tested in just a couple of months. Meanwhile Legal continued to send and receive revisions for months. 

I don’t know what our lawyers were making per hour, but I’m guessing that Google was paying their legal team even more. And we were forcing them to spend hours and hours and days and weeks working on a contract for a free service. We were costing them a whole bunch of money to offer a free service. Eventually, six months later, the two sides had finally reached an agreement. 

Hey, Rodney, you know how I told you that Google had no limit on their non-profit email program?


I just looked. They’ve now capped it at 5,000 users.

Was that our fault?

I don’t know, but the timing lines up.

Neither we nor Google got everything we wanted out of the contract. We got any dispute discussions moved to Utah. They got a five-year period for the contract. After five years we would have to renegotiate. And given the new limitation of 5,000 users, the next time we talked to them, we would be paying for licensing. 

I left the non-profit several years ago. In fact, it’s probably been about five years since we rolled out that email project. Sometimes, it’s better to keep your Golden Goose out of the gift-horse’s mouth. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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