Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 37 seconds

product-data-managementLike any organization, nonprofits have a lot of information to track – such as donors, campaign details, event coordination and volunteers – but they’re also more likely to grapple with ad-hoc processes, budget constraints and staffing shortfalls. Nonprofits often end up in the position of needing to make difficult choices between funding programs, training employees and purchasing necessary supplies or equipment.

Scattered and disorganized information can be a significant detriment when it comes to finances, outreach and ultimately, mission effectiveness. While this is true of all organizations, it can be especially hard on nonprofit organizations already struggling with a myriad number of issues. 

Today’s nonprofit employees are facing 60-100 emails per day, colleagues who aren’t office-based, SMS messages, tweets, images – you name it. However, the system for managing this information has barely changed over the years and is now completely failing.

As a result, information is scattered across different devices, different apps and systems, on different servers, in the Cloud and, in many cases, simply on a piece of paper or in someone’s head. It is causing data to become a hindrance rather than an enabler for growth. Some try to create ad-hoc processes for their particular office or department, but it has little effect on the wider problem.

Employees and volunteers are likely to be frustrated by inefficient process, which could lead to reduced work satisfaction and the loss of valuable human assets.

So what can nonprofits do to change this?

Nonprofits must aggregate their information in the simplest way possible. By deploying a system to manage data and enable clear processes to be formed, nonprofits can effectively manage internal and external information. However, organizations must consider what to implement, particularly given the continually changing nature of work. Today, a significant number of employees either work from home or are field-based; they are mobile. This means nonprofits must find a system that can operate independently of an office and is accessible on the go.  

Apps enable employees and customers to securely access vital information at any time, from any place and extend mission-critical business processes far beyond the boundaries of the enterprise. The difference with custom apps is that they are created to meet the unique business needs of a team or organization, working across various devices, desktops and mobile, to service the modern worker.

There was a time when custom app development was too costly for nonprofit organizations, but that time has passed. Today it can be faster and less expensive to build a custom app from scratch than to buy and try to customize off-the-shelf software. Platforms now exist to help nonprofits solve problems by building their own custom apps that work seamlessly across mobile devices, PCs and the Web. These apps can meld many different systems together while still providing a manageable front-end for employees and volunteers.

Two real-world examples help illustrate the usefulness and flexibility of custom apps. GoodWeave International, a nonprofit that works to stop child labor in rug production, created a custom app that manages fundraising, media outreach and business contacts and keeps the organization efficient. The app also consolidates data collection among 45 personnel in three countries.

In an effort to catalog donors and gifts, The Gorilla Foundation developed a custom app several years ago. It worked so well that more custom apps were developed to power the foundation’s back office operations, including online store backups, volunteer tracking and human resources. Next, the foundation created several custom apps for scientists and researchers to use when interacting with the organization’s biggest star: Koko, the world-famous signing gorilla. Now, the foundation is developing an entire suite of apps to help the researcher-caregivers take optimal care of its gorillas.

For nonprofits that still rely on paper forms, spreadsheets and/or multiple applications, consider working with a custom app platform. Creating a custom app is now possible without a computer science degree, enabling organizations to consolidate all their information, easily integrate with existing systems and meet their unique needs. Employees and volunteers can stop searching for information and spend more time using their skills to further the organization’s goals.

About the author:

Andrew LeCates is a 20-year veteran of FileMaker, Inc., an Apple subsidiary, that develops simply powerful software for easily creating custom apps that work seamlessly across iPad, iPhone, Windows, Mac, and the web.

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