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Not For Profit Software Solutions

Not for Profit Software
Steven Carrie

By Steven Carrie Business Solutions Consultant, Updated 17 May 2017

The buyers' market for not for profit software has grown so fast that hundreds of products now exist, giving charities and non-profits of all types and size the tools that they need to evolve, manage their operation and streamline their cost base. These software product offerings range from standalone individual packages for discrete functions such as donor administration through to fully integrated ERP and CRM solutions. The common theme is that the offerings exist to ensure non-profits can better manage their daily operation in a way that is cost-effective and simpler for management.

Typical applications for these buyers include email marketing campaigns, advocacy communications, reporting, accounting and constituency management. The challenge for buyers, however, is to assess exactly what they need before reaching a purchase decision and to understand their requirements well enough to make a confident decision about which market solution will best meet their organisation's unique requirements. Additionally, the right software solution must be as future-proof as possible and be able to scale up with the organisation over time.

To help buyers to make an informed decision, this guide provides a high-level overview of the types of software available.

An Introduction to Not for Profit Software

Non-profits can benefit from specific management packages and applications that help them to better manage their organisation. Unlike commercial programs, non-profit software is built to meet the unique needs of this buyer group, which will include better administration, fundraising, reporting, donor relations, stakeholder management and more. Each charity or non-profit can benefit from using these solutions, which are naturally rich in features and designed to improve delivery regardless of the organisation's budget, size or offering. Although each system will have its own functionality, features, design and brand, most will typically share a number of core product offerings which are flagged up below.

Common Features

The core feature is financial information provision as part of an Accounting Software package. This will ensure that funds are budgeted, collected, correctly allocated, tracked through the organisational hierarchy and then reported against with accuracy, efficiency and ease. Functions may include grant management, budget tracking, payroll, reporting and spend tracking.

A secondary core feature is donor and fundraising management. This allows non-profits to engage with donors to solicit donations, collect funds, track and respond accordingly through a range of giving types - recurring, corporate, planned, spontaneous and individual, for example. These features might include campaign management, auctions, online giving, receipt generation, management reporting and custom form creation.

Some non-profits will be member-based organisations and will need similar functionalities to manage their members, extend benefits to them, communicate via e-marketing programmes, record interactions through a CRM, set membership levels, track renewals and fees, manage membership benefits and so forth.

For charities there is also volunteer management, and software packages here will offer ways of personalising interactions with a team of volunteers. Features may include contact management, volunteer history, volunteer availability, events management, scheduling tools, online communication and more.

Marketing and outreach functions are common to all types of non-profit management software so that organisations can deliver customised communication, engagement, campaign and direct marketing activity, with personalised content, analytics, management, targeting and archiving available.

CRM systems are also very popular, allowing charities, membership organisations and non-profits to create integrated database structures that manage and engage with all of their stakeholders, whether those are volunteers, donors, members, foundations, corporations or alumni. Features here can include querying, administration of funds and campaigns, lead generation, donations processing, accounting integration and management reporting and MI.

Keep an eye out for events and charity planning too, with features that help to easily manage various events of different size and complexity, as well as features for searchable events calendars or listings, website integration for online registration, automated email communications and reminders, payment delivery, tracking, attendee lists, reporting and more.

Last but not least, most systems also feature grant management capabilities so that organisations can keep a view of awards and proposals and then allocate funds to correct groups when they are awarded.

Understanding Buyer Types

There are two broad types of buyer when it comes to non-profit software packages. Buyers of all types will need to fully understand their organisations' business needs before it is possible to match up product features for the most benefit.

Small and regional non-profits will find that the generation of donor funds is absolutely critical, along with grants and corporate gifting to fully fund their charitable programmes and ensure viability. For these buyers, features such as fundraising management systems and simple email marketing software are likely to be key requirements, particularly as a budget-friendly way for such bodies to engage through social platforms and provide online donation tracking and audit.

For medium-sized organisations, relationship management is key, and systems that help to track and cultivate these relationships can add real value by transforming volunteers, newsletter readers and sporadic givers to become engaged and regular donors. For those organisations which are looking to grow in the longer term, packages which offer integrated donor functionality as part of broader databases are attractive, along with financial management applications, email marketing and business management functionalities to offer control, better management, reporting, online security and audit capabilities.

Large and national-sized organisations will operate in the same way as big commercial companies, dealing with a vast range of diverse stakeholders and huge budgets. They will need to plan, act strategically and deliver their operation with precision, accuracy, cost control and best practices. ERP solutions are a key requirement in order to better streamline back-end functions, as well as constituent management packages that offer rich features, powerful email marketing capabilities and complex fundraising management software.

There are also member-based associations and membership bodies such as trade organisations, clubs and museums. Their needs are unique, and they need to be able to collect fees, manage benefits, set membership levels and track membership and certification where this is offered. Association management software is often on offer as a specifically designed product with these types of organisation in mind.

Last but not least, faith-based ministries and churches will be a category of their own with specific needs around contribution collection, complex relationship management, attendance and involvement in activities and groups. Security systems may also be needed where children are involved.

Pros and Cons of Not for Profit Software on Offer

Of course, no product on the market will be entirely perfect for the buying organisation and its unique needs, although many of the more advanced product offerings will allow customisation and integration with existing systems.

In terms of pros, systems on offer tend to offer the following key benefits:

  • The ability to manage online giving securely, with tracking in the back-end and reporting functionality for regulatory and audit purposes.
  • Grant management and tracking, major donor management and fundraising functionality for forecasting, budgeting and allocation of funds.
  • Advocacy campaign delivery to engage with constituents, including regular communications and events management.
  • Constituent data capture, management and organisation.
  • Better data management to improve marketing, engagement and event planning.

Non-profits that find the full core benefits aren't being realized for them tend to make the following errors:

  • Failing to budget, plan and prepare at a strategic level for growth and changing markets.
  • Failing to fully engage with regulatory, compliance or accounting requirements.
  • Not investing in the necessary infrastructure to allow software integration from a range of vendors.
  • Not fully preparing staff for the use of new software.
  • Not investing in the right training for staff and volunteers on how to get the most of the system's full functionality and features.

By working closely with the right software provider, these mistakes can be avoided with a correct needs analysis, systems integration, planned implementation and careful management.

Market Trends Worth Being Aware Of

Non-profits will immediately know that giving, budgeting and compliance are crucial issues to get right in order to secure quality delivery. However, there are other issues that are also particularly relevant when weighing up the right software solution.

Social media is driving forward the increasingly valuable metric of Return on Engagement, which allows organisations to engage more powerfully with a range of stakeholders via different social media tools. This means that your software package must deliver a seamless connection to your audience via social channels and facilitate communications.

Mobile applications are also key, with staff and volunteers ideally able to access systems on the go, and with donors able to give and engage via mobile devices.

Software as a Service, also known as SaaS, gives non-profit organisations a great way to buy in and maintain cutting-edge software packages without huge price tags. Applications can be updated and modified quickly and easily to match changing needs and to support productivity. Service providers in this field should be assessed on factors such as their maintenance approach, data security protocols, connectivity, around-the-clock support, scalability and uptime.

Finally, software integration is more important than ever, with many organisations having a range of accounting systems, digital marketing, fundraising applications and more - all of which ideally need to integrate and communicate with each other. This is all the more important when dealing with mobile applications and integrating with social media.

By carefully assessing needs internally and then finding the right software provider, the right systems can be found at the right price and an ongoing relationship established to secure future scalability, growth and ROI.

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