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How to master complexity through technology in the not-for-profit industry

Posted by  Rob Gethen Smith

Increasing layers of operational and organizational complexity are stretching the financial controls and technology systems of not-for-profit organizations to the limit. Unit4’s global head of not-for-profit, Rob Gethen Smith, looks at the solutions for managing this challenging problem.

Not-for-profits (NFPs) exist to address many of the world’s greatest issues; whether social, political, financial or medical. Yet organizations are easily and often distracted from front-line work by back-office complications that affect operational efficiency.

To solve this problem and put the focus back on delivering impact, forward-thinking NFPs are turning to enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to streamline business processes, reduce admin costs and improve productivity.

Let’s take a closer look at how prioritizing technology can simplify NFP operations and build a more streamlined, highly functioning organization.

Developing stronger donor relationships

Securing much-needed funds has become tougher than ever, as charitable organizations battle intense market competition and rising expectations from donors.

ERP technology is enabling NFPs to provide a smoother experience for donors, while changing the way fundraising administration is managed to build trust from the back office.

For example, ERP tech can improve decision-making on how and where money is spent. An increasing number of donors want charities and NGOs to back local initiatives, which is moving program delivery and administration away from the central control of international organizations. They also want to see in near-real time the impact of their funding. Coordinating these processes through the right technology platforms creates new, efficient ways to track all transactions, monitor spending, ensure projects remain on-track and manage costs and expenditures according to any restrictions on funding.

This information can easily be reported and shared with donors, to nurture their trust, as NFPs are able to demonstrate program results and the social impact of donors’ support.

Improving the employee experience

It’s not just the donor who wants to see impact in a world of operational complexity; the employees of NFPs are challenged too, when their workload is dominated by time-consuming admin tasks that don’t add real strategic value.

Modern ERP technology is an effective way to automate key processes, freeing up staff to concentrate on more valuable activities. The smartest platforms on the market use artificial intelligence to make analysis and decision-making predictive rather than responsive, increasing the urgency with which NFPs can respond to volatile market influences, which could change the state of play for organizations.

As well as lightening the workload, integrating data, systems and processes enable employees to capture real-time information and approvals, so they can deliver a better service to donors and beneficiaries.

Streamlining back-office management

ERP technology, when designed and implemented with future flexibility in mind, is so effective in mastering complexity within NFPs because of its ability to align systems and unify databases in order to provide a single version of the truth.

For charitable bodies, this visibility and data-driven rationale ensures that every donation counts towards its objectives and contributes to the mission.

Better decision-making increases impact, but integrating all operational activities onto a single platform has other cost-saving benefits too. NFP organizations can assess all the systems they are currently running (and paying for), and, more often than not get rid of many, as ERP software can do the job of multiple tools through a single platform.

This IT consolidation is particularly valuable in a climate where multinational NFP organizations are continuing to decentralize their activities, creating new entities and branches to manage initiatives locally.

Invest now, benefit soon

Legacy systems are not fit for the complexities of the modern NFP economy. The only way to truly simplify back-office operations is to follow those organizations that are already using technology solutions to streamline administrative requirements and automate many of the day-to-day tasks dominating their workload, like our customers.

In fact, ERP is rapidly becoming a familiar, accepted and well-understood term as more and more NFP organizations use this type of technology to find agile and efficient ways of solving the world’s biggest problems. They have discovered technology systems that help them react quickly to organizational change, while proactively responding to unpredictable demands for their services.

To discover how to master complexity with the right technology, download the industry brochure: A MOMENTOUS OPPORTUNITY IN THE NOT-FOR-PROFIT INDUSTRY — why the NFP industry has a golden opportunity and how the leaders are capitalizing on it.

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Rob Gethen Smith

Rob is a digital technology and business change specialist having worked in the NfP sector for the last 20 years. Prior to Unit4, he was a partner at charity and membership specialists, Adapta Consulting, where he advised charities and non-profits on the effective use of information systems. He is also a trustee for the international animal welfare charity SPANA. Rob has worked as CIO at Anthony Nolan, Southbank Centre, Tate and Macmillan Cancer Support, and as Customer Engagement Director at Blackbaud, developing business and technology strategies and leading change initiatives.

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