There are 170,000 nonprofits and charities in Canada, employing roughly 2.4 million people and contributing more than $192 billion in annual economic activity, according to Imagine Canada. To put it in perspective, that’s a whopping 8.3% of Canada’s GDP. Perhaps because of the sheer size of the sector, Canada’s non-profits are feeling the pressure to adapt to the digital age or risk being left behind by their peers.
Unfortunately, non-profits often lack the financial resources of their corporate cousins, which makes it more difficult for them to justify substantial outlays for the sake of staying current. The good news is that as technology has evolved, there are many technological features that non-profits can implement, even with tight budgetary constraints.
In many cases, these technological investments might earn money – both through savings in the short term and building trust in the long run by improving the way our organization deals with donors, how your staff performs their daily tasks, and how your team can plan for the future. In fact, the right technology can be transformational for smaller organizations that are struggling to keep up with a deluge of data and technological possibilities. One challenge for your IT team lies in choosing the most cost-effective and flexible solutions that align with your goals. Here are five essential technologies that every nonprofit’s IT services team should be considering
No matter what type of organization you run – from a Fortune 50 to a tiny non-profit – a functioning and efficient communications infrastructure is critical to your success. The ease with which constituents can reach you and how you deal with donor calls is essential. However, old-fashioned hardwired telecommunications systems are often overpriced and often are not flexible enough to keep staff and volunteers in remote locations in the loop.
A more affordable and effective solution for your IT professionals to explore is Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). VoIP uses the internet (as opposed to landlines) to create a flexible and scalable communications infrastructure. What’s more, this virtual phone system can be hosted in the cloud so that any volunteer or staff member can access it through any internet-enabled device. Since calls between internet-connected devices are free, while calls to conventional phone numbers are generally substantially discounted, most organizations realize a cost savings along with improved flexibility.
Speaking of phones, most non-profits – and for-profit businesses as well – rely on smartphones to work efficiently. It’s difficult to imagine a staff member in the field being able to communicate with your office, look up essential data, or make real-time decisions without access to mobile technology. However, smartphones do create some security concerns that we didn’t have with office desktops – ranging from getting lost or stolen to the very real likelihood that the phones in question are not your own.
Many cash-strapped nonprofits allow volunteers and staff to use their own mobile devices rather than supplying them. When you opt for this route, you relinquish control over device security. Fortunately, there is an option. mobile device management software (MDM) allows your IT experts to develop a safe bring-your-own-device (BYOD) program that still allows administrators to retain control over your organization’s apps and data. That’s essential for non-profits when you consider that some of the data your team may be accessing includes confidential donor or recipient data. As more cybercriminals are attacking non-profits, this gives you a very basic level of security.
Effectively tracking and managing donors is essential to growing as a non-profit, yet many small organizations still rely on manual data entry and use basic tools like spreadsheets to store donor information. Others aren’t even that advanced, lacking any established system for data tracking. Sharing these types of spreadsheets between people and departments often means passing spreadsheets on flash drives.
There’s a much more efficient way to track donor information – Customer relationship management (CRM) software. Once thought of as primarily a sales tool, nonprofit versions give organizations a centralized system for recording not just donor contact information, but essential information about why and when they give that allows organizations to better communicate and fundraise. CRMS are typically hosted in the cloud as web-based applications. They streamline workload because individual departments – like volunteer management and fundraising – won’t have to enter data multiple times into different systems. Instead, all staff (that you grant permission) will have access to the same donor information in real-time.
CRMs also help organizations do more with the data they have by allowing them to track patterns of giving, amounts of giving, and likely gift times. Since these cloud-based applications typically charge a single monthly fee, it ends up being a small price to pay for more efficient processes.
Does your team have cobbled together versions of software running on different systems? That’s surprisingly common in non-profits, where IT hardware is often purchased on an as-needed (or when it’s on sale) basis. This can cause issues when you try to move necessary files across versions or platforms and discover that the data in your spreadsheet is suddenly unreadable. That’s where Microsoft 365 comes in. This online platform gives your non-profit team access to the full suite of the always current versions of Microsoft products.
Plus when you work with a quality IT provider, they’ll typically guarantee uptime and offer support. (Dyrand, for example, boasts guaranteed server uptime of 99.9% and we offer 24/7 online and phone support and configure the software to meet the needs of each user.
Let’s face it, many small nonprofits simply can’t afford in-house IT departments, and maintaining and upgrading in-house hardware is likely done by the most tech-savvy person on staff because outsourcing those needs is prohibitively expensive. While we all require modern technology to function the major capital expenditures needed to create an infrastructure and the costs of repairing unforeseen problems can be a huge financial burden for smaller organizations.
That’s where moving to the cloud can help. Cloud computing refers to the process of having applications run over the internet through a browser. It allows virtually all of your computing workloads to be handled off-site in a data center. What that does is give you immediate access to the latest software and other computing resources, while any necessary repairs, maintenance, and upgrades are the responsibility of the hosting company. All you need on your end is any internet-enabled device, whether it’s an office desktop, laptop, notebook or smartphone.
This also gives non-profits far better control over their IT budgets, since it turns your IT infrastructure into a predictable monthly operational cost.