February 27, 2018

Is Free Technology Costing Your Nonprofit More Than You Realize?

You think you are being frugal by relying on free, albeit less effective, technologies to manage your application process. But is trying to juggle these free tools costing you something more valuable?

Nonprofits invest a lot of money in technology -- almost as much as for-profits, according to a recent Nonprofit Technology Staffing and Investments report. And not surprisingly, the larger the organization, the larger the spend on IT; larger nonprofits spend an average of $235,445 while smaller groups average less than $10,000.

But the constant need to keep an eye on cost-savings, the desire for lean budgets, and the limited resources that impact many nonprofits often have them looking to free or low-cost technology solutions to manage data when possible. From team collaboration tools to an application-based process management platform, they might think the software too costly or too big an obstacle to employ across their organization.

Yet free technology tools might not always be the answer to better managing your grant or scholarship process, even for smaller organizations with even smaller budgets. It can actually be more costly than cost-effective. Consider these risks the next time you look to use the latest “free” technology:

Mixed messages that might hurt your brand.

If you’re using multiple technologies, you probably have disparate data that isn’t connected. For example, you might have a donor’s contact information in multiple systems like Outlook and in an Excel spreadsheet.

It’s no secret that improving donor retention means effectively managing and tracking donor data -- and truly knowing your donors from a data perspective. To do this you need to track every interaction, including phone calls, emails, meetings, and donations in one single, web-based application that the entire team has access to. This ensures you’re sending the right message at the right time to your donors. If multiple departments have different data in separate technologies, your efforts, no matter how well thought out, could actually damage your organization’s brand.

Think of it from the donor’s perspective. If one department has a phone conversation with a donor that is tracked in their department’s spreadsheet, but not in marketing’s CRM, for example, the marketing team might not know a donor’s preference of email communication over direct mail. When details like this are overlooked it often results in unhappy donors who feel that the organization they invest in really doesn’t know them. A comprehensive platform can help you see the full picture of each donor and ensure you send the right messages, as well as track those interactions so you don’t do double duty.

Spending hours -- even days -- compiling reports.

Reporting is a key part of your grant management process, and especially important for your board and senior management. You need to be prepared to pull together summary reports in a few clicks -- not the days or hours it might require if you’re compiling reports from multiple departments’ spreadsheets and digging through emails. Grant management technology allows you to track information particular to what your board wants to know. For example, reports on grants by status, the percentage of grant wins, upcoming grant deadlines, or details on top funders might all be useful information that your board wants to know. You can setup your grant management platform to capture these key data points and prepare reports quickly and easily. 

Missing key deadlines.

Some might argue that you could use an spreadsheet or project management tool to track your program details and upcoming tasks. But tracking key dates that are important to team members across an organization, not just one department, like an on-site visit, can get easily missed in a spreadsheet. Not to mention key deadlines like the due date for a proposal. Keeping key deadlines in a spreadsheet -- no matter the amount of pivot tables -- is cumbersome. Application management software can track all of this information across an entire team or organization, empowering everyone to manage the tasks and deadlines they are assigned. And Excel certainly cannot generate email reminders to keep the team on track. It might seem simple enough, but an email reminder could be the trigger that keeps an entire project on schedule.

Missing documents.

Many free tools are not “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to data. For example, the tool where you store donor contact information, isn’t usually the same place where you’ll find a PDF submitted as part of an application. Oftentimes, program managers keep important grant, scholarship, or award documents in a separate storage space like Dropbox or on the organization’s network, or even -- gasp! -- someone’s home computer desktop. Ideally, these important grant documents should be in the same place as the information on your spreadsheet, and that’s not something you can easily find in a free tool. With grant management software, documents are organized by program or applicant. 


Consider these potential risks the next time your toggle between a spreadsheet and other free tools to manage your grant or scholarship management process. More importantly, bring these topics up to potential grant management software vendors. Minimizing risk and having your organization’s best interest in mind should be at the forefront of the conversation.  

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