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Blog Header ImageIt just keeps getting tougher for non-profits as the expectations for resource availability becomes higher and higher. Even up to just a couple years ago Non-Profits were (of course) on the web but many of the full automation processes we take for granted still didn't exist in this sector and it was accepted as a matter of budget, the mission of the non-profit, and the concentration of the dollars to that mission.

The Situation

This fact naturally put non-profits mindsets in a different spot than commercial companies. They focused on information management and process automation in order to work more efficiently on reduced man power. They invested their capital budgets into expensive Association Management Systems (AMS) many of which were not web enabled. These helped manage membership, dues, events, company profiles, and more. The expectation of its membership changed quickly. A country in recession had limited time to dedicate to mundane processes of faxing back registration forms or printing checks from bills received in the mail. Updating company information including size, mission, services, etc became a real hassle.

Now here is where it got particularly tough for non-profits. The AMS they had invested in had limited or poorly constructed web portions to allow for these now standard online pieces of functionality. Many organizations we're already spending tens of thousands or more per year in licensing, maintenance, and new features into these systems. As a rule of thumb these companies felt their systems we're about features and functionality not concerning themselves with the presentation layer. This made for a very poor user experience (for those that even had a web component). 

The final nail in the coffin the software companies providing the AMS and the value added resellers selling/installing the software are protective of working with others and made it difficult (not cost effective for non-profits) to create a scenario in which this large investment could be the focal point for controlling websites.

The Advantage to Upcoming Non-Profits

Many of the up and coming non-profits were distinctly positioned to address the changing demand correctly from the get go because they had not yet made these large investments into proprietary software, had smaller data sets to integrate, and could work in tandem as they weren't currently so technology driven. They we're strategically positioned to address this shift in expectations spending there donated money in a way that addressed their small staff's need for process automation but also the ease of use for managing the expectations of their membership/contributors. In fact by addressing it this way processes we're fused so tightly together the benefit of addressing both concerns came down to a single process which accelerated growth taking focus of management.

The Solution for Invested Non-Profits

There is a ray of hope in this reality which answers the burning question to well established non-profits that have spent substantial time, effort, and finances in complex AMS technology not ideal for the web. First let's look at the hard hitting facts:

  • It's not feasible or reasonable to abandon the AMS investment especially in this economy.
  • They want the items you control within the AMS to be ported to the web and give members/contributors control.
  • They need to avoid multiple points of management for controlling both layers of expectation as it will double the internal staff workload.
  • They have a requirement to show those that regularly contribute to the mission, They're taking the steps to meet online expectations.
  • They need a way to migrate and reduce web related management costs as most non-profits have large amounts of information to be posted on the web.

Never fear! It's great news to you that Association Management Software companies like iMIS, Blackbaud, netFORUM, IMPak, etc are coming around and providing API's and other features to help integrate web tools with your AMS. I wouldn't say they're friendly as of yet since many of our phone calls for extended development opportunities have been met with a quick "No Thank You.". That's phase II and we'll welcome it when they are ready.

How you make this successful is select a web firm that understands the membership and non-profit model. This isn't understood by many web firms that seek to first collect your requirements document (you understand this comment if you have one of the above systems). They actually understand the model itself, the expectations, and can do an analysis for you to figure out what's possible within a realistic budget and what isn't. The advantages here are a shortened investigative period and a technical understanding for creating centralized management. Very few AMS deployments have content management control to an acceptable degree but in most cases you'll find that you we're paying a web firm to do this anyway as your website and AMS have had no real sharing of data up until this point where it's a new option. Focus on the majors to start with.

  • Single Sign On (SSO). Valid through the web and synced with your AMS at all times.
  • Profile Management for members whether individual or company.
  • Event Management.
  • Online Renewal and Dues Management.
  • Online Donations.

Starting here will actually yield to opportunities of growth in social realms that help with web engagement such as active forums, regular blogs/commenting, and much more. From here you'll have opportunities to take a more relaxed approach to committee and round table management, extended data sharing, private group discussions, and much more. We talk to people regularly about this and if you need to know or understand what the level of effort will be with something like this don't hesitate to reach out. Depending on the size, membership, data, and migration of static content these conversions can vary in costs. Any good web firm should help analyze the situation, give you a starting point, and discuss the first phase to avoid diminishing returns on investment.