Google Apps – Ministry Tech Tip
Last month marked a new addition to the North Valley News with the introduction of Ministry Tech Tips. We had a great response from our first post about DropBox, the easy and free way to store, sync, and share files. With the fast pace of ministry, few have the extra time or resources to implement completely new technology. However, we cannot stay behind the times. Thus, it is our goal to bring you Ministry Tech Tips to highlight proven, easy, and affordable technology to help in your area of ministry.
Google Apps will be our focus for the next few articles. For those of you not familiar with Google Apps, it’s a full-featured application suite that includes email, calendars, document creation, and much more. The next five Ministry Tech Tip articles will be packed with helpful resources to aid in configuring, optimizing, and navigating Google Apps for use in your ministry. The articles will cover the following. . .
- Google Apps Suite: Setup and administration guide.
- Gmail: Configuration and email optimization.
- Docs: Creating, storing, and collaborating on documents.
- Calendar: Effective sharing and synchronization.
- Overview: Installing third-party apps, helpful tips, and best use practices.
There are a few reasons why Google Apps could help to improve any ministry’s effectiveness. First of all, Google Apps resides under your current domain. A domain is simply your web address. For example, the domain for KNVBC – Revival Radio is knvbc.com. Why is this important? It simply gives your ministry a professional edge. Therefore, all accounts would have an “@knvbc.com” address.
Second, Google Apps is full-featured web-based software. Google Apps rivals the power of Microsoft Office in function, yet is completely powered from the web. A key benefit to web-based applications is that no software must be installed. Subsequently, compatibility issues and licensing issues are nonexistent.
Thirdly, Google Apps is yet another free service. With Google Apps Standard Edition, 50 free accounts are issued. It is quite improbable that your ministry would need more than 50 accounts. However, if additional accounts were needed, Google does provide discounted non-profit pricing.
Fourth, you do not need to be an IT professional to oversee Google Apps. Over the next several weeks, we will demonstrate just how easy the setup and administration really is.
Let’s get right into the setup. Before we get started, you will need a domain. If you already have a website for your church or ministry, you’re ready to go. If not, MediaTemple is a good way to go. You can purchase a domain for just $5. Upon purchasing and registering a domain from MediaTemple, you will receive an email confirmation with your login information. The domain used throughout this article is knvbc.com.
To begin, you will need to sign up for Google Apps Standard Edition (follow the link to sign-up). After clicking the “Get Started” button in the top right corner, you must complete the information on the following three pages. The pages will be similar to the screenshots provided below. The first screen will confirm your domain name; the second screen will ask for administrator and organization information; and third screen creates your admin account. Please note, it is best to always set up the administrator account with the username “admin” instead of a particular individual’s name. Once the administrator is setup, it’s permanent. So, if the original administrator leaves – you’re stuck with that name!
Click the image to view the full-size.
Following sign-up, you will be immediately redirected to log into your new google apps account. Login with the username and password you just entered on the previous page. After logging in you see a page entitled “Important Changes to Your Account.” This is simply stating the “administrator” account behaves more like a typical user account. I would strongly advise not using the “admin” account for regular usage. This account should be used only for management purposes. With that in mind, click the “I accept. Continue to my account” button.
The next page is what Google refers to as the “dashboard.” The dashboard is where you will make future administrative changes. For right now, let’s begin by activating your account. First, we must confirm that we actually own the domain we registered with Google Apps. Without doing this, Google Apps will be useless. Simply click on the button in the top left corner that says, “Activate Google Apps.” You will be prompted with two ways to confirm your domain. Perhaps, the easiest method is to “Change yourdomain.com CNAME record.” Select this option and click the “continue” button. The next screen you will see asks you to change a CNAME record on your domain. To complete this process, you will first need to log into your domain registrar or hosting provider’s site. Then, you will add a CNAME in your DNS zone file. If that sounded like a different language was being spoken, just hang in there!
You will need to figure out where you registered your domain. If you have a website, the registrar is often through your hosting provider. Popular ones include goDaddy, 1&1, Dreamhost, and Bluehost. For this example, we will be using MediaTemple (the company recommended above). To make the change, keep the current window in your web browser open (instructions how to “Change CNAME Records”) and open an additional window in your browser. Go to the site where your domain is registered, and log into your account. Nearly every registrar has easily accessible DNS information. Ultimately, you will need to locate where the “DNS zone file” can be changed. This is the only step for which exact instructions cannot be given. There are literally thousands of hosting providers and registrars, and each has a slightly different administrative panel. If you cannot find the DNS zone file, simply call your registrar / hosting provider, to point you in the right direction.
Once you have located where you make adjustments to the DNS zone file, you need to make one small change and you are ready to go. There are five steps to this process. First, click the “add a value” button. Second, go back to the Google Apps page you left open and copy the unique string that google provided for you. In our example, you can see it’s googleffffffffc551ebe8. Third, paste your unique value into the first field of the new DNS zone. Fourth, change the zone record type to “CNAME.” Fifth, type “google.com.” in the last field. You’ve added you’re new value; now just click the “save” button. Keep this page open. We will be going back to it in just a few minutes. Go back to the Google Apps page and click the “I’ve completed the steps above” button. Google needs to verify you made these changes to confirm you as an owner of the domain. The verification process should take 24-48 hours.
Mail setup is going to be very easy now that we have located our DNS file. Once you’re back to the Google Apps dashboard, find the email icon and click the “activate email” link underneath it. The “setup mail delivery” page gives additional instruction. You will notice a dropdown menu located about halfway down the page. If you click on it, you will see several hosting providers for which Google has given exact instructions. (If your hosting provider is listed, follow those instructions). Our hosting company, MediaTemple, is not on the list. So, let’s walk through it. Go back to the DNS file page you left open and create 7 new records. Look at the example below. For every new zone, fill in your domain name (like knvbc.com) for the first value. Next, change the record type to “MX.” Lastly, copy and paste each value I’ve listed below in the third field of each of the 7 new records. Two important things to keep in mind. First, you need the priority number before the server address with a space in between. Second, you need to have a period at the end of the server address. Click the “save” button and keep this window open. Go back to the Google Apps screen and click the “I’ve completed the steps above” button. Google will confirm the setup. Again, the verification process should take 24-48 hours.
Congratulations! You have successfully setup Google apps on your domain. There are just a few more pointers that will make your setup complete. . .
1. Make an easy url to access your mail
It is preferable to make your login url this – mail.yourdomain.com. This makes it very easy for your users to access their mail on the Internet. To make the change, go back to the dashboard and click on the “email” link. You can get to the dashboard main screen at anytime by clicking the Google Apps icon in the top left corner. The first setting you will see on the page is “web address.” Click the “change url” link. On the following page, select the second option and type “mail” in the empty field. Click the “continue” button. A window will pop up asking “Are you sure you want to leave this page?” Click “OK.” The next page asks you to create a new CNAME. Go back to your DNS file page you left open and create a new record. In the first field, you will type “mail,” change the record type to CNAME, and type “ghs.google.com.” in the last field. Click the save button in the DNS zone file. Lastly, go back to the Google Apps window and click the “I’ve completed the steps above” button and Google will confirm the setup. Confirmation will take 24-48 hours. Now you will be able to access you account on the Internet at mail.yourdomain.com.
2. Create additional accounts
Creating new user accounts is very easy. Simply navigate to your dashboard. Click the link that shows the current number of accounts you have (I’ve highlighted the link in the screenshot below). You will be taken to your account page. Click the “create new user” button, and a popup will appear. Fill in the first name, last name, and user name of the new account and click the “create new user” button. You should strongly consider printing out the instructions and giving it to the account holder. The user will access the account for the first time with the temporary password and will be immediately asked to change the password upon logging in. In addition to the accounts you create, you should also create an “info@” (you’ll see why below).
3. Optimizing General Domain Settings
Open Domain Settings by clicking on the “domain settings” tab at the top of the dashboard screen. Make the following changes. Choose the option to have a catch all address and set it to the “info@” address you made earlier. Make sure someone checks this. Mail that does not match a specific user name will be sent to this account. It proves helpful if someone does not get an email address right or is attempting to contact your ministry and does not know a correct email address. Under outbound relay, make sure to select “allow users to send mail through external SMTP.” This could prove helpful to users who will set up an email client to fetch their mail.
4. Optimizing General Email Settings
There are a few settings to change in the “general email settings.” You can find this by clicking on the “manage account information” tab. Here’s a quick rundown of several things you might find helpful. First, add a secondary admin email address and select “send to secondary address in case of forgotten password.” It’s very difficult to recover a Google Apps admin password if you forget it. Second, select the appropriate time zone for your location. Third, enable SSL so all traffic is encrypted. Fourth, confirm that “automatically add new services” and “set control panel to next generation” are selected. And, don’t forget . . . click save.
Now navigate to the appearance tab at the top of the dashboard. Here you can change the appearance of your login screen to give it a unique look for your ministry. You can see the current login screen for KNVBC – Revival Radio below. You will need to upload a logo image that is 143×59 pixels. Uploading a transparent PNG might provide the best result. You also have the option of choosing a sign in box color. Click save. Log out of your account to see the changes you have made.
To minimize as much confusion as possible, this article is a bit longer than normal. However, it has, hopefully, provided you with a look at the specifics and benefits to the world of Google Apps. You will get used to the layout very quickly, but take the time you need to get comfortable with the dashboard. Jump right in and continue to look for the next addition to our Google Apps series!
On a side note, we are thrilled about the much-improved design and format of the North Valley News. The new format will allow our authors to interact with you, the readers. Over the coming months, I would like to interact with you regarding things about which we have written. Let me know if you have encountered a problem or have some insight you would like to share. I hope, over the next several months, Google Apps will become as helpful to you and your ministry as it has become to ours!