Second Life, Google Apps Edition

After responding to questions from a fellow Unitarian Universalist Association Congregation, I’ve updated this article to make it a better reference for other UUA congregations and small non-profits. The changes include addition of references and a how we should have done it section.

So, what have I been up to these past four months? A lot of goofing off to find a new normal and a bit of  non-profit hacking for my church’s communications committee. Unitarian Church of Norfolk, like most 200 member churches, needs significant technical infrastructure but is not large enough to provide it organically. Our solution has been to subscribe to Google Apps which provides E-mail, Google Groups, Google Drive, Google Analytics, and other services to non-profits.


  1. How to use Google Apps for your nonprofit’s E-mail
  2. Google Apps for Small Business at PaySimple
  3. Google Apps for Nonprofits — Nonprofits Help

Our Legacy E-mail

Unitarian Church of Norfolk subscribed to web hosting at a commercial shared hosting service that provided a web site and E-mail for one low monthly fee. There are more of these companies that you can shake a stick at and they are continually entering a state of customer grace and falling from grace. Our provider was falling from grace with slow site load times and spammy E-mail service.

In fact these companies have a business model that works like this.

  • A low rate for the first year
  • Renewal at a higher rate
  • Would you like fries with that?

In the McHosting model, the fries were little things like spam and virus scanning that was actually effective, git service for code base version control, more storage for media, additional page views or transfer volume, etc. And the technical support is barely adequate. For example, I asked a simple question: Which of these should I use: wget, curl, or lynx to visit a web page from a cron job? They sent me a link to a general page on using cPanel to configure a cron task. Not the question I’d asked. I was asking which of the 3 packages was installed, not how to click my way through cPanel to set up a cron job.

Adios Legacy Host

Because of the E-mail problems our trustees were determined to part company with our incumbent hosting company. An area UU recommended a replacement his web services business had been pleased with so we opened an account with them built a new objective web site

Once we were ready to bring the new site live, we changed our DNS servers from the legacy host to the objective host’s servers and waited a couple of days for the dust to settle.

The last step of this Odyssey will be to move our domain registration from a popular large US registrar to a smaller Canadian registrar. The legacy registrar uses the “fries with that” business model for his domain registration. The fee is cheap but everything is a la carte. The  Canadian company does the basics at a fair cost and no options are needed. They will probably pick up our hosting business down the road because there are no funny accents and they can help amateurs like me.

Legacy E-mail Issues

Our E-mail with our legacy host was a mess. When I reviewed the current setup I found the following.

  • Very few actual E-mail accounts
  • Many aliases from to a personal E-mail
  • Officers, trustees, and staff were complaining about horiffic SPAM
  • When officers and trustees communicated by E-mail, particularly in replying, their personal addresses were exposed.
  • We had many committee E-mail accounts that were forwarders. There was no way to collaborate effectively
  • There was no way to manage the E-mail work flow.

Why Google Apps?

Brand Recognition

Many of the officers and trustees had personal Gmail accounts and were familiar with Google services, especially the younger set. They were pleased with Google’s service quality but wanted E-mail for church business. Google Apps for Small Business offered the desired services but 501c3 organizations have the option to apply for Nonprofit status which provides free service to qualifying small organizations.

Concerns Laid to Rest

Our trustees were concerned that Google would be analyzing mail to advertise to us. Google only does advertising in the free public Gmail service. The may be keeping an eye on our mail to verify that we are not running illegal or abusive activities but that’s the extent of it.

Some didn’t realize that our mail would be associated with our domain. It is. We set up Google’s mail gateway as our mail host at our DNS provider for the zone. Currently, these records are with the web hosting company. I should move them up to our DNS host.


Google Apps offered 3 things of primary interest and several more of secondary interest.

  • UC Norfolk branded E-mail address
  • UC Norfolk branded groups
  • Google Drive to archive records, web site back ups, etc

Google Groups can be set up as “collaborative in boxes.” Collaborative inboxes allow action tracking of topics. You can take a topic for action, hand it off to a peer, mark it no action needed, or pick one of several in-the-works statuses. This allowes us to manage our external communications. And groups have archives, digests, message by message forwarding, etc that we needed. Together these should allow most church processes to handle their Email in a sound manner.

We were also interested in the following additional Google Apps services. The communications committee is experimenting with these.

  • Google Sites for team collaboration sites.
  • Google Analytics to track who was visiting our web site and how they were wandering about.
  • Google Docs for writing and drawing.

How we should have applied!

UCN got it backward. We started our Small Business trial first then applied for Google Apps for Non-profits. The right way to do it is

  1. Apply to Google Apps for Non-profits
  2. Start the small business trial
  3. Attach non-profit status to the small business trial.

How we applied

So I had a go at it by starting a Small Business trial in March and applying the Nonprofit program. It turned out that houses of worship throw some unusual curves in the application process.

Google’s Internet services offerings come in several flavors, public, small business, bigger business, education, and non-profits. Google offers the non-profit service without cost as part of its lobbying and marketing outreach and provides a package of services similar to those in the Small Business package. In the US, organizations having a tax-exempt 501c3 Internal Revenue Service employer identifier are eligible for no cost service.

The catch comes for houses of worship and their national associations. The Internal Revenue Code grandfathers houses of worship and religious associations under the tax code so they don’t generally apply for 501c3 status. That means neither Unitarian Church of Norfolk or Unitarian Universalist Association held a non-profit EIN.

It took 3 tires to apply to the Google Nonprofit program. The scheme of things is to start a small business trial and apply for conversion to the Non=profit program. Google charges $5/month per E-mail address in the small business program. When accepted to non-profit status, these monies are refunded.

It took UCN three goes to successfully become a Google for Nonprofits affiliate. We tried the following things.

  • With the UCN EIN and UCN contact information
  • With the UUA EIN listing UCN as contact
  • With the UUA EIN listing the UUA Office of the President administrative assistant as contact after having our minister contact the UUA to determine who should respond to Google.

Our first try failed because the UCN did not hold 501c3 status. Interestingly, UUA is also not 501c3.

Our second try failed because Google had no idea who to contact at UUA to verify our standing. All of the contact info for was for our church office so we were certifying ourselves. Good luck with that!

Our third attempt succeeded because we identified the right people at UUA for Google to contact and used that information in our application. The only place to put amplifying information was in the mission statement text area. We fortunately have a short mission statement so I gave my contact info there and told the reviewer to contact the UUA administrative assistant using the E-mail and phone number in the form fields. This worked.

Note that not all houses of worship will qualify for Google Apps for Nonprofits. Google has strict non-discrimination requirements including nondiscrimination by gender, gender identity, or gender expression. And they are serious about it. Fortunately Unitarian Universalists have been standing on the side of love for over 50 years so we could check that one off in good conscience.