Office 365 volunteer discounts

Hi - I just discovered this community, and am wondering if someone here might be able to help answer a rather obscure question.

We currently use Office 365 for our church, and am on a communications committee for our denomination, and I’m investigating using it for there too. The challenge I’m running into is some “unclarity” on whether volunteers can get discounts on Office 365, and if so, what the pricing is.

The biggest reason we want to explore this is because many of the groups associated with the denomination are mostly volunteers (board, committees, commissions, etc.) They are spread across Canada and have need for things like video conferencing, document collaboration, etc. Office 365 would be the ideal solution for these teams.

However, on their eligibility page, Microsoft is clear that nonprofits staff only are eligible for nonprofit pricing. They include a footnote that volunteers can get discounts, but there’s no link and no further info I can find on these discounts.

I’ve contacted both Microsoft and TechSoup (which handles nonprofit purchases in Canada) multiple times, and they’ve both basically pointed to each other about this. There are Enterprise-level discounts, but those only kick in at 500 users (which we aren’t even close to). Microsoft told me on the phone “we don’t care” about the details of who we might give licences to, and told me to talk to TechSoup. TechSoup told me by email that they don’t have the authority to give permission for an exception to the licensing terms to give it to volunteers, and to talk to Microsoft about that.

So, it seems that volunteers of small non-profits are stuck between staff-only eligibility and enterprise-level discounts, with no provision for them, even though Microsoft’s Eligibility Page (linked above) specifically states they can get discounts. Even though Microsoft’s rep explicitly told me they don’t care, without that in writing (their emails only pointed me to TechSoup), I am unwilling to recommend violating the terms of the eligibility requirements.

After all that, has anyone here received a more clear answer on this? If anyone can shed some light for me, I would be most grateful.

So, the linked terms are, in my opinion, fairly clear. Namely:

Nonprofit offers are intended only for paid nonprofit employees, and unpaid full-time equivalent (FTE) staff who have material day-to-day managerial, operational, and fiduciary responsibilities, and who will not use the license for personal income generation. Volunteers, members and beneficiaries of the nonprofit are NOT eligible for nonprofit licenses and subscriptions. For volunteers, you can utilize discounted volunteer offers available through the Microsoft Enterprise Agreement.

If you have volunteers that have a material day-to-day responsibility, it’s fine to give them accounts provided they aren’t used for personal revenue generating interests (AKA a side business). I know of at least a few orgs that tried giving away Office365 accounts as a “perk” for members and whatnot, and that’s in clear violation of the terms - however, for volunteers that have a day-to-day need to use the systems it’s generally acceptable to hand them out.

In your specific scenario, I’d probably steer you to using Guest Access mode instead as that is fully compliant, and allows for easy communication between tenants (as someone who has more than one Office 365 account, trying to switch between them is a nightmare compared to guest access). And, for teams who aren’t eligible themselves they can continue to use the Freemium version of Microsoft Teams until they get sorted out.


Thanks Alex,

While there are staff that could clearly use accounts, the volunteers we have are certainly not day-to-day or FTE. And I have tested out guest access. It’s a possibility, but there’s a dealbreaker there, actually: in collaborating with Word Online, changes are tracked but not displayed. You can only view the changes if you have desktop Word. That one thing alone (which is quite shocking in its omission) is steering us back to GSuite for document collaboration.

I was wondering if others had ever dug more deeply into the granting of volunteer nonprofit licences. Maybe I should be pushing MS to review their features. (This “track changes” one seems to be one they’ve ignored - others have pointed it out and requested the feature.)

Microsoft has a consistent policy of allowing the organisation’s licenses non-profit or not to be used by vendors/non-direct staff that needs to work with the organisation for long projects or contractual work.

For church volunteers or servers that don’t have a long term working relationship with the church, I don’t think they would qualify for the non-profit licenses. If they are volunteer Elders. Deacons, Pastors etc that need to communicate on behalf of the church to external parties or to serve the church members then they should qualify for the non-profit license since they do have a daily function even though unpaid. But for volunteers that only serve on Sundays I don’t think they qualify.

I was disappointed to read the non-profit o365 guidelines clearly state the licenses are only for paid employees not volunteers.

Thanks Norman, that’s helpful info! Is that policy written down anywhere? I want to be above reproach in everything we do, and the office I am working to help would want to see some supporting documentation and/or precedent so that we can be assured we’re not violating terms.

For the use case I’m researching, it’s not for a congregation, but a denomination. Besides staff, volunteers are elected to 4 year terms to do work on committees and boards. According to what you’ve said that would seem to qualify as long-term enough.

It would be ideal if you could point me to some written support somewhere for that policy. I haven’t been able to find anything explicit. Thanks in advance for any help!

If you want the clearest answer about your specific scenario then I would advise you to contact Microsoft directly for advice. You can do so on the Office365 support channel asking about licensing.

If the volunteer role fulfills the line in bold then I don’t see a reason why that volunteer shouldn’t qualify.

Here are examples of fiduciary responsiblities: What Is a Fiduciary Duty? Examples and Types Explained

We’ve also been working to interpret the situation around volunteers and the recent references to the availability of a volunteer SKU from when Microsoft announced changes earlier this year. Last week I noticed in the admin portal under subscriptions that there is now a “volunteer” level E1 subscription available at 1.50GBP. Whilst this feels more inclusive, the problem still exists of fairly interpreting the unpaid FTE references. For me, the use of FTE implies full time, but most of our staff and volunteers are part time and we might refer to them as 0.5FTE as appropriate. How is FTE interpreted in the US?

Microsoft definition of FTE is just 200 hours per annum for UK; which is about 4 hours a week.

Thank you Norman, that is a nice clear definition of FTE, I’d searched several times for something tangible on the interpretation of FTE but hadn’t come across these. Thanks.

USA IRS defines FTE with 30 hours of service per week but includes actual time worked and non-work.

Thanks again, Norman. The reason I posted was because, as I noted in the OP, I did contact Microsoft directly, multiple times. When I got multiple unclear or non-answers by email, I called, and on the phone was told “we don’t care” about who the licences went to and was referred to TechSoup (the admin in Canada), who then referred me back to MS. I must say it was quite the frustrating experience.

Thanks to others who’ve chimed in too. Our volunteers cannot be in good conscience considered FTE, and being that there seems to be no real provision for non-FTE volunteers at small non-profits, it seems we won’t be able to use Office 365 in good conscience for them. Until and unless MS releases visible Track Changes markup online and other needed collaboration features, looks like we’ll be using GSuite.

In reality, it only matters what the auditors think. They’re generally external contractors, and I’m not aware of anyone who has had their Office 365 licensing given a second glance. In my experience as long as you’re able to substantiate why you thought something was OK based on the best of your knowledge they will at worst request that you true-up your licensing and move on with your day.

I think the provision for non-FTE volunteers at small non-profits is the volunteer SKU which has appeared recently. Not sure what the USD cost is for it though, it’s 1.50GBP/month in the UK.

When I read your comment about track changes not working I thought you meant in relation to guest users, but having looked into I now understand that this doesn’t work for any user in word online, and there seems little indication of it coming soon on the word uservoice. I’d encourage voting on the user voice post, but in the meantime, yes I’m afraid this looks like a blocker if you nee the track changes in the online version.

US Pricing

Thanks Alex - I hear you, but I also want us to be above board in all we do. We might be able to “get away with it”, but if it’s clearly outside the scope of the licensing agreements, we’re going to stay away. (Though, it’s true there is some “un-clarity” in the specifics of this…)

Iain, thanks for this info. I’ll see if I can dig up info on whether that’s available here in Canada.

Re: Track Changes, yes, hence the reason for wanting the full Office 365 subscription for the volunteers. That would give us each the installed version of Word, which (rather ironically) works just like Google Docs does. In the installed versions, not only are Tracked Changes visible, but you can also see others edit in real-time. It’s quite shocking that this feature exists in the installed version but not the online version. (Of course, it could be not shocking at all, but actually very intentional on MS’s part, because we need to pay for installed versions and the online version is essentially free. So if that’s the reasoning, it makes perfect sense why that online feature doesn’t exist, and why they aren’t implementing it.)

I’ll look into the new Volunteer SKU and go from there. Thanks again!

Thanks Norman - again the sticking point is getting access to the desktop and mobile apps, because of the need to Track Changes.

So I just checked it out, and the new Volunteer pricing is also available in Canada ($2.40/month/user). But as Norman as shown with the screenshot, that’s for the E1 tier which doesn’t include desktop apps. If they bring in a Volunteer pricing scheme for the Business Premium package or another that includes the apps, we’re fine with paying for it. But maybe it’s not coming anytime soon, since they just revamped all those packages?

The bottom line is that unless the Track Changes features is fully implemented in the online version (which I would suspect isn’t in the pipeline, after looking at that UserVoice link), we’ll be needing to use Google docs. And that’s fine, except for Google docs is severely lacking in the formatting features (custom text styles, outline formatting, etc.), which we also would want to use.

No ideal situation! :slight_smile: We’ll just do the best we can with the options we have.

Windows Virtual Desktop on Azure might work for you once it is launched.

Microsoft fundamentally do not care if it is paid staff or volunteers, not in practice. As long as it is used for the purposes of the chairty.

What they don’t want is Deacon Bob, getting free Office licenses and he uses it for church purposes 5 minutes a week.

If you have hotdesk situations, get the charity licenses of the apps for $30-40 a copy, install and let the volunteers use it. If this is for someone to have a copy of Office at home, just in case they need to do church work, then that is a no no.

Source: I’m a Microsoft partner, I’ve done licensing audits and know what they consider abusive.

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