Strange as it may seem, thirty-odd years into the personal computer/internet age, there are organizations still missing out on the productivity advantages that software can provide. Oh, sure, they use word processing and accounting programs. They may even have a basic database program as a filing system and an office network. Their people may even play around with smart-phone apps — if they’re young enough. But there is a lot else that they are missing out on.
This is nowhere more true, in our experience, than in non-profits in the social services sector. Even when people working in this sector are not overwhelmed by the social needs they serve, the resources they have to work with are often — even typically — overmatched by those needs. If managers can find time to ponder possible technical innovation, they see it as out of reach. Pressing needs soak up scarce funding, and staff lack technical expertise to handle innovation in house.
But where else are the productivity gains software can bring more important than in situations where resources are stretched thin?
Let’s look at some of the ways in which software can add to productivity for social-services non-profits and then how you might be able to afford it.
How can software help?
Learning management systems (LMSs):
In client education and staff training, computer-aided learning can substitute for expensive in-person instruction. Sure, human interaction is often essential in client education, but it can be supplemented by on-line learning at much lower costs in staff hours. Initial investment in preparing on-line materials can quickly pay off.
Business intelligence (BI):
Yes, talented managers can often effectively guide organizations by ‘feel,’ supplemented by just basic accounting data. But even then, what is there to draw on when donors or government or the board want objective measures of service delivery? At a small cost in data entry, software today can generate charts and graphs that make data relationships and trends stunningly visual. Who knows? This might even work better than ‘feel’ when it comes to management.
Customer relationship management (CRM):
Donors — you’re probably tracking who gives, how much and when. But how about the process of recruiting new donors? CRMs are used in business to track potential customers from initial awareness through deepening levels of interest to a buying decision. Donor decisions work the same way. And how about managing relationships with social service clients as well?
Content management systems (CMSs):
How are you managing your website’s content? If you don’t already have a CMS — something like WordPress or Joomla — the process is probably pretty cumbersome and possibly expensive unless you have someone in house who can handle html. And how about on-line donation tools?
Membership and volunteer management:
Going beyond simple spreadsheets, membership and volunteer management software can automate generation of renewal ticklers and routine letters of appreciation.
How can non-profits afford software that can help?
Commercial software can be expensive — really expensive. LMSs and CRMs can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. There are less expensive options, and it’s not always a matter of getting what you are willing to pay for. Cheaper options can be as capable as the gold-plated ones. There is even ‘freeware’ — open-source software you can download from the internet at no cost. But there’s a catch here: Such freeware has to be adapted to the needs of a particular organization. Universities that use the Moodle freeware LMS employ sizable IT staffs to configure and maintain their version of it.
There are two challenges here: One is finding software options capable of meeting your needs at prices that make them advantageous. It’s no good spending just a thousand dollars to save only five hundred. The other challenge can be finding an affordable way to adapt open-source freeware to your needs. Chances are you will have to reach outside your organization for the necessary technical expertise.
Helping non-profit organizations in the social services sector was one of the main purposes Adjutans Technologies was created, as a social enterprise, to serve.
- We offer consultancy services to do business analysis of your software needs and help you navigate the jungle of available software packages.
- We can help adapt open-source freeware.
- We also have an inventory of generic software solutions we have developed with the help of IT professional volunteers designed to be adapted to meet customers’ needs at far lower cost than commercial alternatives.
If you manage a non-profit in social services, we exist as a company to help you. Contact us to discuss whether and how software might improve the productivity of your operations and make your resources stretch farther in serving the social purposes that are your mission.