Recently I asked a nonprofit client of mine to conduct an inventory of the software solutions they use to manage their operations and programs. In part, I tasked them with counting the number they employ in any given week under typical circumstances.
The results were staggering—and dismaying. On average, each department at that organization used seven different software solutions to accomplish their goals. That’s right, seven! I couldn’t help but think about how complicated and downright difficult that made their work. Each of those platforms had separate logins and acted as separate, standalone data repositories. They also required administrators to manage seven contracts and train and develop expertise in seven different solutions.
Fortunately, there’s good news for my client and similar organizations. Technology vendors are aware of this frustration and are continually working to develop software that meets several needs for nonprofit organizations, including:
- Fiscal management, bookkeeping, and accounting
- Constituent relationship management (CRM)
- Fundraising and donor tools
- Program administration
While your nonprofit may not be able to meet all of its needs with one system, focusing on core functions that need to share data and working towards fewer solutions that address many needs will save time and money in the long run—ultimately offering increased efficiency and greater efficacy in fulfilling your mission.
Below I’ve highlighted nine reasons why an organization should consider evaluating current solutions to strengthen your core.
1. A reliable system of record
Focusing on your core functions and the data most essential to those activities allows organizations to streamline and maintain accurate information within a central record. Users enter data once into their organization’s database, rather than storing it in multiple spreadsheets, on users’ hard drives, or in locations otherwise inaccessible to those who need it. This simplifies input requirements, maintains data consistency and accuracy, and allows for greater accountability.
2. Full control over information
Having fewer solutions provides organizations and programs with greater control over their information. Data always lives in exactly the same place and is available for viewing, tracking, and reporting as required. Administrators establish permissions and protocols for the core solution instead of trying to recall or document such information for numerous platforms.
Not only that, but pulling essential data into a core system provides stakeholders with access to organizational and programmatic information anytime, anywhere, ensuring transparency and accountability.
3. Real-time information
When data is streamlined into a core solution, users have immediate access to dynamically updated, real-time organizational information whenever they need it. Data seamlessly flows within the system, so when one user updates it within their function, another user sees those changes reflected right away in another. Imagine: In mere seconds, a charitable gift made through a donor portal displays on organizational financials and initiates reporting to set up next steps.
4. Built-in streamlining
Using technology tools not truly designed for nonprofit functions, or designed to only address a small piece of them, can be frustrating. As your organization, team, programs, and community of constituents grow, the system becomes clunky and riddled with human error because of multiple data entry points and limited visibility between siloed information.
Focusing on the core functions of your nonprofit such as fundraising, accounting, and CRM helps you maintain data integrity in the most impactful areas. This, in turn, helps you scale back on the other technologies you’re using and look for ways to continually streamline between systems.
5. User efficiency and efficacy
Perhaps most importantly for day-to-day users, a focus on core software can have an immediate and lasting effect on administrative efficiency and efficacy. Users have to log into fewer systems and have fewer passwords. They enter data into a reliable system of record and can trust it will be tracked and easy to access as needed. They develop greater expertise and feel more competent in their work. Staff collaborate more easily, with their information immediately available to their colleagues. Workflows happen seamlessly; some tasks become automated while others become unnecessary.
A streamlined core solution allows users increased efficiency, which in turn affords them more time, energy, and resources to effectively accomplish departmental and organizational goals.
6. Organizational planning
By using fewer solutions (and ones tailored to manage the core functions of a nonprofit), organizations and their administrators can simplify their short- and long-term planning efforts. Succession planning, for example, becomes easier when up-to-date information is readily available to share with leaders and potential staff members. An organization can more quickly train new administrators, helping them to get up to speed in record time. Having historical and real-time financial, fundraising, and programmatic data at an administrator’s fingertips enables better growth forecasting.
7. Cost savings
Organizations can save a great deal with fewer software solutions. Paying for one product typically costs much less than paying for multiple products, and this savings can even be realized in eliminating free solutions that require clunky workarounds, manual data entry, and don’t protect the integrity of your data. Consider my aforementioned client as an example. If only the programs team focused on their core needs and software systems, they’d save thousands of dollars annually that could be reinvested into organizational or programmatic goals.
Furthermore, a core solution allows staff to work more efficiently, saving both organizational time and energy, not to mention the dollars those resources cost. Such a product can simplify workflows, eliminating formerly necessary tasks, sometimes for good. All of that time savings enables staff members to focus their energy on other projects or organizational development and growth efforts. This translates to more charitable dollars available for mission-focused work.
8. Work with a trusted vendor
With streamlined solutions cutting down the number of systems required, organizations are able to develop, build, and maintain partnerships with fewer vendors, not seven (or even more!). Such relationships have the potential to be transformative in organizational administration. Instead of working with dozens of sales and customer service representatives, administrators can spend more time developing collaborative, productive, and strategic relationships with their core solution vendor’s most relevant team members.
Importantly, these vendors maintain one cohesive team, united under one shared vision. That same team builds, markets, sells, implements, supports, and runs that streamlined solution. This cohesion makes it possible for the vendor to focus on its clients’ core functions, not just one aspect of operations or programming, which enables their clients to maximize their impact on those they serve.
9. Data integrity and security
Core software solutions greatly increase an organization’s data security efforts. Information is entered once, not multiple times, and stored in one database instead of across numerous platforms. Not only does this allow greater data integrity, but it also eliminates unnecessary exposure to potential threats such as unauthorized access, corruption, or theft.
Further, by having a reliable system of record, administrators can more readily identify potential problems. This could be as simple as erroneous donor information or as severe as fraudulent accounting activity.
If even just a few of the above reasons resonate with you, I encourage you to investigate solutions that meet multiple needs and help you to streamline your software. Organizations that have embraced these core solutions report all of the efficiencies detailed above (and then some). The time, energy, and money they’ve saved has allowed them to commit greater resources to making meaningful organizational and programmatic change. Or, as the Foundant Technologies team might put it, they’ve been able to truly maximize the impact of their philanthropic work.