Nonprofit Best Practices: How to Improve Your Organization With Software

By: on September 20, 2017

My wife is a better person than me.

She has dedicated her life to working in the nonprofit field in order to help people less advantaged than we are. However, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t face typical workplace stresses and frustrations—including dealing with software and technology woes.

“I vow to listen to any of your complaints about job-related software.”

Recently, to keep up with the amount of information that flows in and out of their office, her organization updated to using Salesforce for nonprofits. When I asked her what kinds of challenges this created for her, she told me that her biggest questions revolved around how they were supposed to use the new software suite:

“What level of detail should be recorded for communications? What should remain confidential? When should you establish a new campaign?”

My wife is, of course, not alone in asking these sorts of questions when faced with new or updated software. When any organization—including nonprofits—has a software change there will also be a change in the organization’s best practices.

Nonprofit best practices, though, are somewhat unique from other businesses.

This article will explore what kinds of new best practices are needed when a nonprofit changes or updates its software.

Focus On the Tools That Matter

The first and most important thing that nonprofits need to do when considering new software is take their time to find the right software (which, by the way, is something we’re happy to help you with).

The last thing you want is to waste time on-boarding your whole organization to a new system that’s not the perfect fit for your particular business model.

According to Tim Sarrantonio, the director of business development at NeonCRM, one of the biggest traps that organizations fall into is purchasing software that does too many things, rather than focusing on a specific need (such as donor management/fundraising):

“Don’t be pulled or swayed by flashy and unnecessary tools when your organization can’t organize an annual fund.”

The donations dashboard in NeonCRM

Don’t just purchase software that sounds nice in theory. Select your software upgrades based on fulfilling specific needs—such as automating time-consuming tasks, as we’ll cover in the next section.

Automate Manual Processes

Ultimately, business software serves two main, overarching purposes:

  • Information storage/access
  • Automation

Nonprofits are as beholden to the bottom line as any other organization, so it’s in their best interest to automate time-consuming (and thus money-consuming) manual tasks with more effective software.

Samantha Avneri, marketing director at Regpack, explains that for most nonprofits these tasks usually include payment management (such as membership dues and donations) and email communication.

Automation of registration processes in Regpack

Furthermore, according to Avneri, nonprofit software also needs to fulfill the goal of information storage and access, so that employees can find important data with a simple search.

Automating paperwork and communication, she says, “opens the door to staff working on the core tasks of your organization, without the administrative tasks eating up precious time.”

In addition to making sure it’s saving you time and money, you should also keep in mind how the software can help your donors, particularly by maintaining their privacy.

Prioritize Security

When your donors give you their money and information, they are also giving you their trust.

If you want to maintain that trust—and get any more of their donations—you need to be sure to keep that information safe and secure.

This, of course, can be easier said than done.

According to Jonathan LeRoux of small business web design and marketing service TurtlePie Solutions, “In this era, with the recent Equifax data breach, and the seemingly daily news reports of companies being hacked and customer data being held ransom, data security is more important than ever.”

This means, first of all, ensuring that the vendor you purchase your software from has a solid history of security. A quick Google search can tell you whether or not they’ve ever been subject to one or more breaches.

However, much of the onus of security will fall on your organization to implement the software properly.

As LeRoux explains, “your nonprofit’s leadership, your IT team and relevant members of your staff must come together to form concrete standards of practice and policies that dictate the safe access of accounts, proper use of software and secure transmission of data.”

This focus on safety should also include making sure that you can safely transfer information between different software programs used by your organization.

Integrate Your Software Systems

Although some larger vendors of nonprofit software, like Salesforce, can provide you with all of your organization’s various needs, those can be pricey systems—particularly for smaller nonprofits with fewer IT resources.

The large amount of information available in DonorPerfect’s “Key Performance Indicators” dashboard

You may find yourself using a variety of different vendors for a number of distinct types of nonprofit software—fundraising, grant management, CRM, accounting and so on.

It can be fatal to your streamlining process if your various software systems are unable to communicate with one another.

You may end up spending more time trying to transfer information between systems than you ever spent on the newly automated tasks in the first place.

Chad Reid, director of communications for online form building platform JotForm, explains that, “In this day of automation, make sure your organization uses a software that can take information about a donor or member, and automatically distribute the information to spreadsheets, email marketing services, collaboration tools, CRMs and cloud storage softwares.”

This integration needs to go further than just the specific software systems, though, and needs to become part of your nonprofit’s larger technology strategy.

Develop a High-Level Technology Strategy

Annie Rhodes, director of foundation strategy at Blackbaud Corporate & Foundation Solutions, argues the following:

The single most important thing for nonprofits to keep in mind when implementing new software of any kind is technology strategy.

Rhodes explains, “It is necessary for all organizations, big and small, to have a high-level technology strategy to ensure that each technology purchase aligns with and drives achievement toward your organization’s mission.”

This means choosing your systems as part of a larger software initiative, not just piecemeal. Doing otherwise can lead to the problem of finding yourself with multiple systems that can’t effectively communicate (discussed above).

Rhodes advises that, “If you are just getting started, start small by focusing on the core technology solutions key to helping you run your organization, and then grow from there, referencing the overarching strategy each time a new technology investment is made.”

Rhodes is not the only person to recommend high-level strategizing. According to Gartner analyst Bill Swanton:

“Getting agreement as to which business capabilities are unique and fast changing upfront can help with prioritization of work to fit budgets that are always limited.”

Source: A Pace-Layered Application Strategy for the Public Sector and Nonprofits” (available to Gartner subscribers)

A fully developed plan can make sure that time, money and effort aren’t wasted with failed or inefficient software implementation.

Having this kind of high-level strategy will ultimately help you to ensure that you are following through on all best practices as you go about the complex task of implementing software for your nonprofit organization.

Next Steps

These are just a few of the nonprofit best practices you should implement alongside your new software. For help choosing what that software should be, here are some steps you can take to narrow down your options and get more information:

  • Email me at for more information. I’m happy to help you figure out what your own nonprofit software needs might be and to connect you to one of our expert software advisors for a free, no-obligation consultation!

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