Non-profit sector, how do we tackle the technology challenges?
Almost every non-profit organisation, especially a small one, faces challenges in its daily operations and quite too often these challenges determine if the organisation will still exist in the next quarter. From fundraising through volunteer management to donor engagement and reporting, the reality of the charity sector is tough. So there is no surprise that most charity CEOs focus on activities that will keep the organisation running and often leave the question for improvement and new technology for the next month, quarter, year…
Coming from the payments and technology sector, I have seen how big of a difference a good technology, used in the right way, can make. In recent years, the Internet has developed to the extent that cloud-based technologies, accessible from everywhere, at a cheap price if not even free, have become the norm for small business owners. Even online payment processing and invoice reporting have become easily accessible and commoditized services with products such as Stripe and Xero. Salesforce and Mailchimp help manage the business sales database and email campaigns. They save time, money and are flexible to the extent that a business owner can find out how many deals have been closed this week on the app of his phone. So why is the non-profit sector so backwards in using these services? After all, a charity is run exactly as a business organisation with its needs and processes.
The answer is in the good old cash. By definition, the non-profit sector is not built for profit-making but for helping people. Accordingly, technology companies, corporates, and even start-ups openly avoid building for the sector. The ones who nonetheless have decided to develop products and new technologies have seen themselves on the crossroad of either going bankrupt or charging non-profit organisations commercial fees. So you see – no wonder that this sector still strives away from technology and considers it an overhead, too complicated to use and expensive.
Time for a change. In the last years, the charity sector has come under serious scrutiny for the lack of efficiency and use of proper technology solutions in order to improve fundraising practices and operations (Guardian Link). It is time for charity management to look into their usual old daily challenges from a new perspective. The mentioned in the first paragraph operational needs – fundraising, donor, beneficiary and volunteer management and most of all impact reporting are only old problems which already have new solutions (at least in the business world). So let me try to break them down in the scope of the charity sector.
Fundraising – the ability to collect donations in the easiest (for donor and charity staff) way. As this is one of the main topics here it is worth going into detail. Cash is old, insecure and dodgy and I am sure no charity wants to be seen in such light. So here are the options – online donations (payment processing), recurring payments (on card and via Direct Debit), phone/MOTO payments (or the usual virtual terminal charity staff can manually put card details in), mPOS (a portable Point of Sale terminal which can take a secure donation from a card via Chip&PIN transaction). All those different secure ways to take and manage a donation just wait to be utilised for best-in-class fundraising practices. Requires some time to set up and get used to the new system? Sure – it can also double the charity income and unlock another 4-5 fundraising channels.
Donor and beneficiary management (or donor/beneficiary CRM database) is the ability of an organisation to go to the next level and make sure it has control over the communication and engagement with the people who sustain this organisation. I am sure I do not need to convince you how important that is.
Proper project management and impact reporting are also things that do not belong to the whiteboard or pen and paper meetings. Your donors want to know what happens with their donations, irrelevant if they are corporate or individual. Make sure you deliver it in the way they want it – digital, transparent, socially engaged.
Lastly, all listed above are not the job for the IT guy! These are the charity main responsibilities and as such, they must be the priority of the person running the charity. Such technologies can become the backbone of the charity operations and management should see them not as an overhead but a minimal (not to mention you can find most of them for free) resource investment which will drastically improve the charity efficiency and accordingly its ability to help more people for a longer period.