Help me organize this non-profit startup!
January 13, 2014 3:16 PM   Subscribe

I am the new admin for a statewide non-profit startup. I need help figuring out the best tools to use for: project management, grant management, community engagement, and database management. The more integrated the systems, the better. Cloud-based is a must. And, of course, the cheaper the better.

I've just started at a brand new non-profit that is distributing services across the state. We need help organizing our work and utilizing cloud-based tools to do it.

Here are some of the needs as I have seen them (after 8 days on the job):
- Project management for various services and programs
- Community engagement tracking for organizations and individuals
- Event management (who came, who worked the events, etc.)
- Database management that could be tied to mass e-mail distribution
- Grant management, which could be incorporated into project management or something else

We have several types of constituents:
- National organizations / associations
- State-wide organizations / associations
- Community partners (CBOs, etc.)
- Funders
- Members of our association
- Families

I'm looking for the best tools that can be as integrated as possible.

What I / we are comfortable with: Google Drive, Salesforce, MailChimp
I've heard about: Asana, Little Green Light, Nation Builder

What are the most integrated tools for helping us navigate our work? What are the pros and cons of various platforms you've used? And finally, how has your organization gotten buy-in from the end users to utilize the fabulous new system?
posted by frizz to Technology (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Check out 37signals. They are very popular and well respected. I've used Basecamp, and dabbled with Highrise, they are good tools.
posted by derbs at 3:45 PM on January 13, 2014

I don't know if you have a background in nonprofits or not, so forgive me if you know this already. But my understanding is that Salesforce makes itself free for nonprofits. (Although, there may be eligibility criteria I don't know about.)
posted by Susan PG at 3:52 PM on January 13, 2014

What systems do you have now? Is that the Google Drive, Sales Force, etc.? Because you might be well-served by an integrated CMS system. Ours handles our engagement, member database, event management, email and web backend. Now, I will say that we use Kintera (still) at it's horrible, awful and terrible, but that I've heard a lot of good things about Salsa and Blue State, and if you talk to their reps, they're very helpful. We also looked into CiviCRM, but it was going to take too many custom modules to get us set up, and we just didn't have the staff to implement it and support it.

As for buy in, well… everyone agrees that this needs to happen and has for two years, but the board would have to approve extra funding for the switch over, and that still hasn't happened, so…
posted by klangklangston at 4:32 PM on January 13, 2014

There isn't really a great all-in-one here. You have two problems to solve:

1: Being a business that needs to be able to function internally (meetings, to-do lists), and
2: Being a non-profit that needs to engage the community (donor call records, SMS alerts).

For #1 take a look at Google Apps and the 37signals suite.
For #2 take a look at NationBuilder and/or CiviCRM.
posted by Jairus at 6:01 PM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

We use salesforce non-profit crm at work (it's free!). It has a lot of potential, but there is a fairly steep learning curve for some of its components. And we're too tiny/low budge to pay someone to setup some of those of things.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:01 PM on January 13, 2014

Response by poster: We are currently using Google Drive, Mail Chimp, and are starting a trial of Salesforce with the hopes of submitting the application for free non-profit use.
posted by frizz at 9:47 PM on January 13, 2014

How much money do you have? This is something you should test and trial over 1-2 months or get a consultant to help with because a bad choice creates so many headaches. Salesforce is free but adapting it to your needs and training staff is thousands sunk in.
posted by viggorlijah at 12:55 AM on January 14, 2014

Posting from a laptop now so with links: Techsoup, NTEN and Idealware are very useful reference sites.

We're right now trialling either Neon or Donorperfect Online to replace our old CRM system, but I can personally recommend Donor Tools, a small outfit with excellent customer service that does a few specific things very well.

What we've done when we needed new software solutions is to look at existing programs first and see if we could implement it there first - if you're on Google Apps (often free for non-profits), there is a lot of functionality possible already. Then I make a list of all the features we must have, features we'd like to have and shortlist the possible answers. I work out the lifetime cost (purchase/rental plus training+implementation if needed) over 2-3 years so I can compare costs, and pretty rapidly cut it down to a shortlist of 2-3 options, and then we trial it with the major users of the software for at least a week or two.

You're better off with our requirements using one big system rather than piecing together multiple platforms. Asana might work from your shortlist.

The buying and setting up of your software is about 20% of your challenge. Plan to spend 80% of your time streamlining processes and helping people get used to and actually using your system. They won't bother if it doesn't make their work easier or it's hard to use.
posted by viggorlijah at 4:41 AM on January 14, 2014

Salesforce is the most powerful tool you are evaluating and will give you the most freedom to set up your business systems exactly the way you want. The Foundation, which is the arm of Salesforce that will grant you the free licenses, supports a set of add-ons called the Nonprofit Service Pack that provide fundraising tools and extend your ability to track households, individuals' affiliations with multiple organizations, and relationships among individuals. They also run a really helpful forum for nonprofit Salesforce users (you need a Salesforce login to get in, though -- I'm not sure if a trial account works or not).

There's a fairly large community of Salesforce consultants who specialize in serving nonprofits. If you have a budget for implementation (and I hope you do), you can get a consultant to set you up and get you going without reinventing the wheel.

If you're tracking at least dozens of organizations and hundreds of people, expect your organization to grow, and can pay for some initial support, Salesforce is a good choice -- it's going to scale well and give you flexibility to modify your processes. That can be a little intimidating, and there's definitely a learning curve, but it's well worth evaluating this application seriously.
posted by mississippi at 2:55 PM on January 14, 2014

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