For nonprofit organizations, every dollar spent on administration and operating expenses is a dollar that isn’t going to fund your charitable mission. Not only does this mean fewer resources for your cause, but high costs of operation may hurt fundraising efforts as donors prefer giving to organizations that have a low cost to impact ratio. These are good reasons that nonprofits are always looking for ways to reduce expenses wherever possible.
That’s why many nonprofits are looking to modern technology as a way to reduce communication costs, while still enjoying the benefits of a modern enterprise unified communications solution. It may seem impossible, but you can have the best of both worlds by combining SIP trunking with an open-source PBX system. Here’s what you need to know and how you can save.
What is SIP Trunking?
You don’t need to know all of the gory details, but what important is that SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) makes it possible to deliver voice and other media over the internet rather than traditional telephone lines. You may have heard people talking about VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol). SIP is a technology that makes VoIP possible. If you move away from traditional phone lines that require a physical connection to the public switched telephone network (PSTN), your calls will be delivered digitally.
How Does SIP Trunking Save Money for Nonprofits?
SIP trunking is almost always less expensive than traditional telephone lines (PRIs) for several reasons.
Eliminate Most Long-Distance Charges – If you opt for an unlimited SIP trunk plan, you’ll pay the solution provider a monthly fee for each channel (equivalent to a telephone line) that you need. There are no additional per-minute long-distance charges for most calls in the US. SIP providers also often offer lower international rates than traditional telephone carriers. This approach both lowers costs and makes them more predictable, which is very useful to nonprofit finance teams.
Pay for Only What You Need – Traditional telephone lines (PRIs) are sold in groups of 23. What if you only need 15? You still have to pay for 23. Nonprofits can’t afford that kind of waste. With SIP trunking, you get one unlimited SIP trunk and then subscribe to as many channels as you need. If you need 15, you pay for 15. If your needs change, you can easily add more or reduce your subscription at will.
No Installation or Maintenance Costs – Old-fashioned physical telephone systems are expensive to install and maintain. Someone has to come to your building to set the system up and to make any extensive additions or changes. Not so with SIP. Since it is all set up online, there’s nothing to install or maintain. If you need to add, move or change extensions, you can do it in an online control panel with no associated costs.
SIP trunks replace the telephone lines, but they don’t replace the telephone system (PBX). Fortunately, nonprofits have an excellent way to control the costs for the PBX as well. The first option is to use the PBX you already have.
SIP Trunking + Legacy PBX
If you like your current phone system, and it is working well for the needs of your nonprofit, you can probably use it with a SIP trunk. You’ll simply replace your physical connection to the telephone network with a digital one.
If your PBX is fewer than ten years old, it is probably IP enabled. To check, you can look at the documentation, or just see if it has an ethernet jack. If it does, it is probably good to go. (SIP.US offers a free trial with 60 minutes of calling, so you can set it up and test whether it will work with your system.)
If your PBX is older or not IP enabled, you can still enjoy the cost savings of SIP trunking. All that’s required is an inexpensive device called an ATA that will convert the analog signal to a digital signal.
Keeping the system you already have is a great way to save money. But what if your system isn’t meeting your needs, or you want to take advantage of new communications features such as video, conferencing, text messaging, and application integration? Don’t worry; you can do exactly that and still save with a free or low-cost open-source PBX.
Open Source PBX Solutions
These software solutions offer all of the state-of-the-art unified communications features that expensive enterprise systems provide, without any cost for the software. All you pay for is the server that runs the platform and any consulting services you need to get it up and running. There are many options available. Here are a few that are popular with nonprofits.
Asterisk by Digium – The Asterisk solution by Digium is one of the most popular PBX solutions on the planet. There are more than one million Asterisk-based PBX systems in use in more than 170 countries. Asterisk is a free, open-source foundation for building all sorts of communications applications. It works beautifully with SIP trunks.
It is important to know that Developers built Asterisk for developers. In order to customize the solution, one must understand Linux, telephone networking, and script programming. But hundreds of nonprofits without these skills in-house still use Asterisk by leveraging an integrator or consultant.
FreePBX – FreePBX is an open-source graphical user interface that controls and manages Asterisk. It is easy to use and configure and can be run in the cloud or on a server at your location. It can work alone but is usually installed as part of a distribution that includes Asterisk, the OS, the user interface, and other integrated software. It is an excellent solution for single or multiple location nonprofits.
FreeSWITCH – FreeSWITCH is a telecommunications solution that uses standard protocols to deliver voice, text, and video. It is a platform on which many telephony capabilities can be developed using free tools. It supports several audio codecs, making it a good match for SIP trunking. Customization is streamlined because of its modular design. The solution is full of modules to enable essential functions as well as more advanced features.
These are just a few of the open-source communications platforms available. Before you decide on a solution, make sure that your SIP trunking solution will work with the one you select. (SIP.US works with all of these as well as many more.)
There’s no one-size-fits-all communications answer for nonprofits, but using SIP trunks paired with an existing PBX system or an open-source solution is an effective way to reduce costs without sacrificing the capabilities you need to achieve your goals.