CIO in Not-For-Profit

CIO Metrics in the Not-for-Profit Environment

Posted by  Mark Baars

Today's not-for-profit organizations face several challenges that did not exist in the past, largely centered around information gathering. Donors are no longer satisfied with pictures of the smiling disabled or happy, well-fed third-world children. They want specific metrics and documented results. Further, the organization's own board members are likely to feel the same way. As a result, more and more not-for-profits are turning to technology, and to manage that technology, they are entrusting the Chief Information Officer. This whitepaper will discuss some of the challenges that today's not-for-profit CIO faces, and the best way to address them.

The Role of the CIO

In most organizations, the CIO is vested with the final say on technology decisions. As such, it's their job to make sure:

  • The organization establishes the right metrics for its unique needs. Not all organizations need to report and analyze the same data. The CIO, working with their staff, has to make sure that the information gathered is what the organization needs and that results can be measured against the established metrics.
  • Any chosen or upgraded IT solutions yield ROI by making the organization more efficient. IT is no longer about just IT; IT investments must serve the organization as a whole, and the CIO must be keenly attuned to the big picture. Money spent on technology must be spent wisely, and all resources, technical and otherwise, should benefit from technology expenditures.
  • Any technical solution to aid donor solicitation efforts must track, manage and analyze donor data. Also, the CIO must make sure that the solutions chosen are user-friendly enough to be used by business people (marketing, for instance), not just technical people.
  • The donor-facing applications, for instance the website, must describe the not-for-profit in a creative and understandable way. It also must expose visitors to the organization's mission and its results.
  • Since money and donor information are often collected online, the software used is secure, and that any third party payment processor used must also boast "foolproof" security and efficiency.

In short, the CIO is in charge of the information technology universe as it regards their not-for-profit organization.

Another Essential: Integration

Within the last decade or so, another trend has emerged: the need for all applications to be integrated, to be able to communicate with each other. Can usage of any application be optimized if it exists in an information silo, benefiting only, for example, the sales and/or the customer service departments? The answer is an emphatic "no." The more times data has to be manually entered, the more likely it is to be less than "clean," which makes analysis problematic, if not impossible. When a CIO discovers information silos, they must work to resolve this integration (or lack thereof) issue.

The preceding paragraph paints a holistic, interconnected picture of the not-for-profit IT environment, and more and more of CIOs are discovering what for-profit entities have known for a long time: the best way to ensure that all of the organization's needs are met is to take a similarly holistic, interconnected and integrated approach. That's why the not-for-profit sector, led by forward-thinking IT management, is recognizing the value of enterprise resource planning software, or ERP. And the best ERP software is ERP software that was purpose-built to serve the not-for-profit sector.

What makes an ERP solution for the not-for-profit organization different from the mega ERPs that are often discussed and written about?

  • Pricing. Demands of even the largest not-for-profit organizations pale in comparison to those of General Electric, Cargill or Apple Computer. The not-for-profit simply cannot afford and does not need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on an ERP implementation. The CIO has to make a choice that gives the organization the most bang for its buck.
  • Flexibility. In most organizations, technical resources are stressed and scarce. It's important that the ERP be flexible and customizable enough to allow the business user to make minor changes as required. The CIO must make sure that the ERP can be modified to fit the processes of the organization and its people, not the other way around. And, of course, they must exercise governance over changes.
  • Usability. This is always a factor in choosing software, but because the mega ERPs have historically been despised by business users for their complexity, even the term "ERP" can send shivers down the spine of the non-technical user. It's up to the CIO to make sure that the ERP is going to be well-received and enjoy universal adoption among the people who it is intended for.
  • Ease of Implementation. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of stories about ERP implementations that went wrong and, in some dramatic cases, brought entire companies to their knees. The CIO in the not-for-profit sector, like their for-profit counterparts, must guard against selecting a solution that suffers from over-complexity of implementation and an overabundance of bugs and glitches. Fortunately, there is an easy way to avoid this, as many ERPs today are cloud-based, making implementation and version upgrades exponentially easier.


The role of the CIO in the not-for-profit sector is expanding in scope as well as importance, as the competition for funds makes meeting the demands of the donors non-negotiable. Technology is the linchpin of any strategy to meet those demands. The solutions that the CIO chooses to implement must meet a high standard for affordability, usability and integration. To that end, the move toward enterprise resource planning solutions for not-for-profits will continue and accelerate, with cloud-based solutions representing the best value.

When all is said and done, the CIO must be the master of their company's IT universe.

Mark Baars

Mark Baars

Mark is an industry data analyst spotting the latest trends in business, finance, IT and education. At Unit4 Mark delivers relevant market insights and aims to support CFOs, CIOs, controllers and business leaders to resolve their daily challenges.

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