There’s no single IT system for running a nonprofit organization. The phrase “nonprofit software” encompasses a wide spread of systems and back-office tools for managing both day-to-day operations and long-term planning. Having the right software in place can make the difference between impactful growth and mere survival. This applies to public charities, foundations, faith-based groups, higher education, artistic and cultural societies, and many other classes of nonprofits. And yet, software-buying is a challenging endeavor, especially for decision-makers with little IT knowledge. How do you find the best nonprofit software vendors? How do you decide what tools you need? What if you can’t afford much?
This guide will help you help you get started by defining the current market, dividing nonprofit software into major functional categories, and comparing solutions in each category.
Nonprofit Software Vendors, by Category
|CRM/Donor Mgmt||Email Marketing||Accounting|
|Salsa||Constant Contact||QuickBooks Nonprofit|
Nonprofits exist in and among the business world and face many business-like challenges; and yet, they operate under the banner of public good, which means assets and infrastructure often take a back seat. Some analysts have referred to this phenomenon as a “starvation cycle1.” An organization feels guilty about monetary expenditures, and so misrepresents its costs to funders, receives a commensurately inadequate amount of funds, and is forced to cut corners on vital systems and technology.
When it comes to technology, nonprofits are notoriously ill-equipped. They use outdated operating systems and obsolete hardware, relying on home-brewed systems of spreadsheets, rubber stamps, and rolodexes to push through their daily workflows. A recent report from Techsoup2 further defined the biggest IT challenges for nonprofits:
Other challenges include maintaining a website, maintaining a network, providing staff with IT support, managing databases, security and privacy, and backup and recovery of files.
Modern, cloud-based—or “software-as-a-service” (SaaS)—systems can help nonprofits overcome many of these obstacles by providing access to software that’s powerful, but also affordable and easy to learn. Most cloud applications integrate with countless other business tools and can be set up in under a day, although there are also larger software suites and enterprise products available for organizations with expansive needs.
There are a number of different areas where the right software can shore up and automate business processes. That means a nonprofit can accomplish operational tasks with greater efficiency and put more energy into their bottom line, which is their mission.
Here are some of the most common functions of nonprofit software:
Now that you have a better idea of the nonprofit software marketplace and common software uses, let’s take a look at three major categories.
Customer relationship management—or CRM—traditionally refers to software that stores contact records and pushes prospects, leads, and opportunities through the sales pipeline. In the nonprofit sector, on the other hand, CRM is usually taken to mean “constituent relationship management” because of nonprofits’ more diverse stakeholders (donors, volunteers, members, alumni, students, partners, vendors, media outlets).
The best nonprofit-specific CRMs will have tools for managing all your relationships, though not every solution is created equal. Some products in this category are billed as “donor management software” or “fundraising software,” with prominent features and use-intent varying slightly according to vendor. For example, some nonprofit solutions offer integrated marketing automation.
Case Study: Room to Read 4
Room to Read is a nonprofit advocacy organization that focuses on developing literacy skills among primary school children in Asia and Africa and battling educational gender inequality. The organizations was experiencing significant growth, but still using spreadsheets to manually enter donor and gift information, which made answering questions and pulling reports difficult. They turned to Blackbaud’s The Raiser's Edge, which let them locate all data in a centralized system and improve overall efficiency. Other gains they experienced:
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, about half of U.S. nonprofits have less than $100,000 in total revenue 5. That means many organizations have to do a lot with a little when it comes to finances. Although some CRMs include basic accounting functions (like time and expense tracking), most don’t provide the end-to-end financial tools required to manage all the financials at a nonprofit organization.
Accounting software helps nonprofits perform the financial planning and reporting functions that keep them afloat without wasting hours inside of spreadsheets or paying an accountant to handle basic tasks.
Case Study: The Great Books Foundation 6
The Great Books Foundation is an educational nonprofit that sponsors interdisciplinary readings and literary programs to promote social discussion. Before Intacct, they were using an on-premise, publishing-specific accounting system, but as their organization grew, the system’s limitations become clearer. They started looking for a solution that could minimize the need for IT support and run without glitches and downtime, and also something that would allow employees to work remotely. After switching to Intacct Foundation Accounting Software, the Great Books Foundation experienced a number of benefits, including:
Nonprofit Marketing Automation
Marketing automation is about using technology to manage your brand and attract new prospects across multiple engagement channels, whether it be website content, email, social media, mobile devices, or even an old-fashioned newsletter.
Sure, you could just send a mass email to all of your contacts, but that only addresses one aspect of a very nuanced, complex process—one with myriad opportunities for failure. Marketing automation software gives nonprofits valuable tools for preempting these failures and getting more supporters plugged in through volunteer work, donations, and event attendance.
How to Choose the Right Software
That’s where we come in. At TechnologyAdvice, we kind of know a lot about IT, but we aren’t elitist about it. Our goal is to help businesses connect with the technology that best meets their needs. We’ve compiled product information, reviews, case studies, features lists, video walkthroughs, and research articles on hundreds of leading IT solutions, all to make the buying process more straightforward for decision makers like you.
If you’re curious about any of the solutions listed in this guide, we’d love to talk to you about it. Call one of our in-house specialists for a free consultation, or use the Product Selection Tool on our site to get a personalized recommendation in seconds.
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