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By: Bonnie Massa, Massa & Company, Inc.
Here’s a cautionary tale.
A social services organization called me because its case management database no longer provided useful reports for case workers—or the statistical information funders wanted.
My research, which included interviewing all of the program staff and reviewing their existing system, indicated the system was left unattended (not updated) for many years and couldn’t be fixed at a reasonable cost. We looked at four solutions that would fulfill their current needs: all costing $50,000 to $90,000 over five years. That’s hard to swallow when you haven’t devoted a dime to your system in eight years.
I understand their sticker shock. Unfortunately, they had put themselves in a difficult place. The organization couldn’t attract new funders—or keep the current ones happy—without a new system, nor could they afford it. So they set out to raise $75,000. That was 11 months ago …
Why am I telling you this? Because I want you to treat your fundraising, membership or case management data system as if it’s your wardrobe. You can’t do your job without it (just imagine!) so it’s an essential asset. The same is true for data management systems, if you must capture information to achieve your mission, raise funds or manage membership!
We don’t wear our work clothes threadbare and then buy a totally new wardrobe every eight years. Most of us buy clothes annually or seasonally, replacing what doesn’t fit or goes out of style with new pieces that meet our needs and keep us current.
Do the same thing for your data system. It needs annual attention to continue to “fit” your organization. This means the cost of maintaining/updating it should be in your annual operating budget. Also include in your annual operations budget any staff training on how to use the system. Even the best one is worthless if the last person who knows how to use it has left the building.
Spending a limited amount of money every year sure beats the pants off $50,000+ in one year! Find more about donor database selection from Massa & Company!
By: Delia Coleman Vice President, Strategy & Policy Forefront
I’m really excited to be a part of ACN’s Annual Meeting and celebration of the sector – this has been a tough year for the nonprofit sector and any day spent sharing our successes and learning from each other is an important one. But our successes don’t exist in a vacuum. Our gutsy wins exist in an openly hostile budget environment, a competitive field, and within a city and state struggling with big problems.
And that’s the environment we already know about. What about the issues the sector is only just barely aware of? How are we supposed to get ready for those? What are the strategic decisions our sector, and individual organizations, are going to be forced to make?
And what if we could anticipate those decisions and prepare now?
While the primary external factor for Chicago nonprofits today has been around funding and budgets, there are other issues looming in the distance: the further privatization of services, nonprofits losing out to for-profit providers, the cultural taboo against talking publicly about mergers & acquisitions (or other types of strategic partnerships) while outside pressure mounts for the sector to do more work with fewer resources.
These outside pressures force a moment for our sector. It’s not a moment to rethink our purpose, no. We are still here to turn places into communities through education, healthcare, arts and culture, youth development, protecting our environment, or caring for the most at risk. But perhaps it is time to think about what place-making and community-strengthening need to look like in a future that is rapidly approaching. Our programs, our partners, our business models – all of this may need to look and perform differently if we are going to remain the invisible hand holding up our communities.
Maybe we won’t be so invisible, then. And then things can really start changing.
These success stories at your Annual Meeting are more than success stories – they’re bellwethers for a sector that needs to find a way to move nimbly from mere Survival and Sustainability to Thriving in a highly competitive environment.
I can’t wait to see these stories grow and take root. I hope I’ll see you there.
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