There’s an adage about hot properties in real estate that can be summed up in three words: location, location, location! If we were to apply the same idea to nonprofit software solutions, hot applications could be summed up in three words as well: features, features, features!
Nonprofits want software solutions that offer the best feature sets for the various departments, functions, and stakeholders within the organization. The development department wants the best fundraising and donor database software. Those managing programs want the best grant management software. Donors want an easy way to contribute online and see the results of their gifts. The Finance Director wants a solid Fund Accounting solution. The Executive Director would like to see everything working together in order to give a complete picture of the organization to the Board.
While there are many, many benefits to cloud computing, for the purposes of this article we’re going to focus on how solutions delivered from the cloud make for a much better environment for selecting ‘best of breed’ software applications.
Best of breed
It used to be that when a nonprofit was putting together its requirements for a new systems selection, they had to decide whether to choose a suite of applications from one software vendor, or to take the best of breed approach.
When the only technology platform available was on-premises software (a software solution loaded onto a server physically residing in the nonprofit’s office) opting for the best of breed approach was usually cost-prohibitive, as it involved a great amount of time and expense to integrate the different applications from different vendors. If your organization wanted or required integrated systems, the more affordable choice was to go with a suite of applications from a single publisher to ensure that information from fundraising could flow into the fund accounting system, for example.
The problem with the suite of applications-approach is that all the components were not equal, maybe the tuition management was strong, but the grant management and accounting was weak; or the fund accounting was superior but the fundraising was subpar. One department would be thrilled with the choice, the others…not so much.
The nature of cloud computing has made the best of breed approach far more affordable. It’s a powerful and exciting option for today’s nonprofit. The technical reason behind this is well described in ‘Best of Breed Applications Finally Have Their Day’ article appearing in the Wall Street Journal:
The cloud, with its open, flexible SOA-based application architecture means that integration is far easier and cheaper to manage today. This dramatically weakens the primary – and in some cases only – reason that customers were buying applications from the suite vendors. Cloud software is built with integration and information exchange in mind. As cloud computing has matured, so has the “API economy.” SaaS vendors can now extend their application’s usefulness through releasing APIs to developers, who in turn then offer rich, complementary functionality back to joint customers.
Best of breed means every one can have a solution that is feature-rich, providing the specific functionality to best help with the activities for which each person is responsible: development directors can have a superior fundraising system while the finance director enjoys a robust fund accounting solution.
360-degree view of the organization means optimal program management
With the integration that is facilitated by the cloud platform, and each department or function using a solution designed for particular operations, better data is available from each area of the business. The cloud makes consolidating this data an easy and automatic process.
Staff members will be relieved of a tremendous amount of low-value, manual activities such as re-keying information from one system to another. Enjoying the integrated, best of breed configuration of the cloud, team members have better data, delivered faster, and available directly from the system. They now have more time to analyze the trends, problems and opportunities the data may suggest. The ability to operate more strategically means better management of programs. And, optimal program management can translate to better stewardship of funds and more constituents served.
The executive management team will finally have a 360-degree view of the organization. This means they can do a better job of guiding the organization and fulfilling the mission. Data showing program effectiveness can be used to make compelling cases when soliciting major donors. Responding to questions raised by the board will be faster and easier to deliver with best of breed solutions in place. And, better data delivery and the resulting analysis and insight will go a long way in meeting the increasing demands for transparency.
Nonprofits are challenged with operating with a level of transparency that satisfies donors, constituents, the community, watch dog organizations, to name a few of the most common interested parties.
The Nonprofit Times published an article that defined transparency this way:
“Transparency means telling the truth about your organization, your partnership, and your goals. It means disclosing who is benefitting from a campaign, how much they are receiving, and precisely how and when funds are being raised and disbursed.”
Charity Navigator is a type of watchdog organization that “works to guide intelligent giving” by educating donors and rating nonprofit organizations. Charity Navigator has this description of transparency, “transparency is an obligation or willingness by a charity to publish and make available critical data about the organization.”
The challenge to be transparent is a call to accountability and openness. Aided by accurate and timely data, most nonprofit are going to have a very compelling story to tell and transparency become an exercise in building awareness on the positive impact organizations have in the lives of their constituents and in the quality of our communities.
Cloud technology is making it possible for nonprofits to access more powerful solutions at an affordable cost. Equipped with better tools, the talented people in your organization have the ability to reach new levels of success. A good technology partner who has experience with cloud computing, the software solution and working with nonprofits can help you calculate things like return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO).
As mentioned above, the ability to enjoy the advantages of best of breed solutions is just one reason nonprofit organizations are moving to the cloud. We’ve published a white paper that shares 11 more reasons to move to the cloud, you can download it by clicking this link.