(Cross-posted on the Google Nonprofits Blog.)

Editors note: Today’s guest blogger is Mark Gillingham, Vice President of The Great Books Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization whose mission is to promote reading, thinking, and the sharing of ideas for people of all ages. The Foundation's 60 employees have been using Google Apps for over two years.

For the past 60 years, the Foundation has helped millions of students and adults make the reading and discussion of literature a lifelong source of enjoyment, personal growth, and social engagement.

We offer courses for teachers in person and online. The Foundation also publishes books, anthologies, and materials for all ages to provide quality texts to discuss.

We have a history of using free and open-source applications on our desktop computers and servers that are more flexible and powerful than the paid applications we had been using. Once we learned that Google Apps was available at no cost for nonprofits under 3,000 users, I gathered our IT planning committee to plan how to migrate 60 users from our existing system.

We had been using an onsite email system for years because it was part of our file system. Although we upgraded the system every two years, it never seemed up-to-date. We had issues reading certain types of documents and viewing images and web sites. Using the system away from the office caused problems because we needed special applications, which varied by operating system. The calendar was not compatible with our mobile devices and the document repository was difficult to manage. As a result, most staff did not utilize the IT solutions we were offering.

We planned our deployment with a local developer Rachel Baker, whom we met through NTEN (Nonprofit Technology Network). She helped us understand what was required for a successful deployment and guided us through the process. We also used the Google Apps Marketplace to find a Google Apps reseller, Cloud Sherpas, whose specific migration knowledge and software helped us move all of our data.

At launch in 2009, our staff was thrilled to finally use a modern email program with highly reduced spam. Years later, some of us have still not gotten over this giddy feeling. More teams are using Google Docs to share internal and external documents. Google Calendar is the official way we schedule our meeting rooms.

Now in 2011, we're excited to try out Google+ in our organization to find new ways to collaborate. We are considering using Google+ to provide technical support for our employees. Also, we think our remote workers could use Google+ as an easy way to communicate with their peers and home base while travelling.

Part of my job is seeing the future so I can help direct the Foundation toward technology that will work for them. Google is always improving its products and launching new features. I love it when I can show someone the next new thing. It makes them smile, which makes me smile too.

If you are a U.S. 501c3 nonprofit interested in using Google Apps, please apply for our Google for Nonprofits program. If accepted into the program, you can receive up to 3,000 users for free, or a 40% Business discount on more than 3,000 users.

Non US-based organizations can sign up for a free Google Apps account with 10 users, or you are welcome to purchase Google Apps for Business.

To help you setup Google Apps quickly, Google provides many deployment resources, plus a simple in-product Setup Wizard.