Non-profit organizations requiring technology upgrades or digital transformation face a balance of challenges and opportunities. While donor and volunteer communities are increasingly looking for demonstrable transparency, cybersecurity and new ways of engagement, non-profits are often under financial pressure due to a lack of affordable technology services, particularly cloud services.
These were some of the considerations of Ducks Unlimited Canada when the conservation organization’s financial software system, which had been in place for more than three decades, came to the end of its lifespan.
The search for a solution that would allow the non-profit to not only effectively track donor and partner contributions but also gain new tools to better fulfill its mandate brought Ducks Unlimited to Avanade Canada, the leading digital innovator on the Microsoft ecosystem with a track record of advising non-profit organizations and the social sector on the right technologies to operate in the digital world.
“One of our areas of focus is on how new innovation can modernize the non-profit sector,” says Jeff Gilchrist, general manager for Avanade Canada. “Non-profits often have to operate in a lean and efficient manner; some would say on a shoestring. At the same time, they tend to require technology solutions that can help them accomplish two things: one, to address inefficiencies by moving from paper-based to digital activities; and two, to achieve a higher degree of integration between systems.”
Avanade’s Technology for Social Good program provides a vehicle for partnering with the not-for-profit sector to accelerate the delivery of impactful technology and relevant solutions to non-profit organizations, says Mr. Gilchrist. “Our goal is to become a trusted adviser in the non-profit sector by providing relevant, innovative and affordable solutions – to address the most pressing challenges being faced by non-profit organizations. Developed on the Microsoft Common Data Model for non-profits, our solutions are designed specifically to enable non-profits to streamline their work and better serve their communities. This approach also means that we are able to develop solutions that are repeatable, so that we can make them more affordable for the sector.”
These repeatable solutions – which are tailored to the specific needs of the non-profit sector – can include donor management and fundraising, volunteer management, grant and award management, sourcing and supply, and more. For Ducks Unlimited, it meant switching to a cloud-based solution, says Rehan Aqeel, Avanade’s vice president, Executive for Business Applications & Digital. “[Ducks Unlimited] knew they were on an antiquated platform that was no longer supported by any service providers. They moved quickly to rectify that. Through the Tech for Social Good program, we helped them migrate seamlessly from a legacy platform to the cloud. We also partner with other non-profit organizations looking to upgrade their technology platforms.”
Bringing the power of the cloud and digital technology to non-profit organizations can help them transform their workplaces and accelerate their social impact, says Mr. Gilchrist, who believes that cloud-based applications open doors to infinite capabilities.
Mr. Aqeel adds that moving to a cloud-based platform can serve organizations in many ways. Ducks Unlimited, for example, can access the solution from any device at any time with the ability to scale as needed. In addition, it can analyze data more efficiently and accurately than before, with real-time access to financial reports.
And the capability of working with larger data sets enables a greater integration of information from the national, provincial and regional or field operations of Ducks Unlimited, which is also increasingly using drones to conduct geological surveys rather than sending crews to physically assess different locations.
“Ducks Unlimited is using artificial intelligence and the ability to capture images together with the application of the new technology capabilities to collect and evaluate data that can support its mandate,” says Mr. Gilchrist.
Yet potential benefits can go well beyond improving a non-profit’s internal processes, he adds. “As younger generations of Canadians enter the picture, they are looking to align themselves with organizations that operate in similar tech-forward ways as they do. An old-school approach to engaging them, such as calling or knocking on their doors around dinner time to solicit donations may not be appealing to them.”
Mr. Gilchrist believes that non-profits evaluating their relationships with donors and volunteers is not that different from retailers trying to understand their customer base. “The question is the same,” he says. “What is the value proposition I can put in front of [my audience]?”
Technology enables new ways of engaging the public, as was evident in the crowdfunding effort initiated after the bus crash of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team, which ultimately raised $15.1-million with a GoFundMe campaign, according to Mr. Gilchrist. “In this case, technology provided the means for people to offer support almost instantly,” he says. “When you can push a button on your phone and hit send, it is easier to overcome inertia and take action.”
From streamlining internal processes and offering greater transparency and cybersecurity, to reaching their audiences in new and enhanced ways, the technology solutions originating with Avanade’s Tech for Social Good program provide non-profit organizations like Ducks Unlimited with not only valuable but essential tools to thrive, grow and make an increasing impact in the technology age.
Sponsor content feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.