Design is an intrinsic part of our everyday behaviour and determines - to a certain extent - the quality of our lives. It plays a crucial role in shaping the functionality of our homes, the utilization of technology, and even the effectiveness of education and healthcare systems, all with the aim of enhancing our overall well-being. Likewise, nonprofit organizations can greatly benefit from embracing design-thinking principles when it comes to volunteer engagement. By mastering the art of design thinking, nonprofits organizations can optimize their processes and create more rewarding experiences for both volunteers and the communities they serve.

Like most design intends to do, design thinking is a practice that uses a creative toolkit to solve a host of problems and streamline processes. What makes it unique is that it is human-centred and helps the people it solves problems for. The process is also collaborative and action-focused. Consequently, it tackles all kinds of challenges that lack structure or method by reframing the problem with human behaviour at the forefront. 

Design thinking can be considered radical because it is uniquely rooted in questioning, unlike any other implementation process. It requires addressing the questions at hand, assumptions about that problem, and the implications it has as a result. But what is the value of design thinking, especially in the context of engaging volunteers?

Volunteers are the backbone of many organizations, and they are esteemed in a way that is quantifiable yet infinite. Most - if not all - nonprofit organizations want their volunteers to feel valued and engaged with the work that they do. These organizations want to provide a positive environment for their volunteers, making them feel like they're contributing to the overall mission. Design thinking can help. It opens up new possibilities for volunteers, resulting in a better experience for everyone.

Because it is so rooted in human need, questions that design thinking can answer are, "What is the experience of volunteering like?" and, "How might we make it better?" In this article, we will explore the practical application of design thinking methodologies, with a specific focus on the Five Phases of Design Thinking. By examining these phases within the context of nonprofit organizations, we will provide concrete examples to illustrate how design thinking can transform volunteer engagement and create more meaningful experiences for both volunteers and the communities in which they serve.

The Five Phases of Design Thinking

As mentioned, design thinking is a process concerned with solving complex problems in a highly human-centric way. It consists of five steps or phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. While these steps work in tandem with each other, they aren't necessarily sequential or need to be followed in a specific order and can be iterated on at any given time, specific to your organization's needs. 

Empathize 

Design thinking is so human-centred that it requires a level of reframing to understand volunteers' perspectives and their needs. Empathy, therefore, is critical in problem-solving because it addresses and understands specific consumer behaviour and aspirations first and foremost and helps to uncover opportunities on a needs basis; when you know "who" you're solving a problem for, design thinking informs the "how" in which you solve it. 

This phase involves observing and engaging with volunteers on a deeper emotional and psychological level, allowing the design team to internalize and empathize with their experiences. 

Imagine a nonprofit organization focused on providing educational support and mentorship to underprivileged children in a local community. Let's call them Hopeful Steps. They conduct one-on-one interviews and focus group discussions to reveal volunteers' motivations and challenges. Some are passionate about the cause but face time constraints, while others are unsure about how to contribute effectively. Additional surveys of the children and their families highlight specific educational needs and aspirations. 

Armed with this understanding, the organization can tailor their volunteer engagement strategies to address the unique needs of both volunteers and the children they serve to create more meaningful and impactful experiences for everyone involved.

Define

When applying design thinking to volunteer management for nonprofits, the "Define" phase is another crucial step. After gathering valuable insights about potential solutions, the focus shifts to reshuffling and sorting through this information to gain clarity and definition. This valuable data is organized into a creative brief that combines strategic direction and creative inspiration.

Hopeful Steps, the nonprofit we discussed earlier, carefully analyzes the insights gathered during their empathize phase. They discover that a recurring theme among their current volunteers is a desire for more structured and flexible volunteer opportunities that fit into their busy schedules. The volunteers expressed that they would be more engaged if they had clear guidelines on how to contribute effectively and saw the tangible impact they make in the children's lives.

Ideate and Collaborate

In this next phase, the focus shifts towards generating creative solutions collaboratively. Armed with a comprehensive understanding of the volunteers' needs and the problems at hand, the organization can foster an environment conducive to divergent and innovative thinking. This phase encourages the exploration of diverse options, ensuring that all potential ideas are embraced and thoroughly assessed. The creative brief serves as a guiding lighthouse, keeping the team aligned and heading toward strategically viable solutions aligned with the organization's objectives.

During collaborative brainstorming sessions, the Hopeful Steps team explores various ideas to enhance volunteer engagement and educational support for the children. Everyone is encouraged to propose even the most unconventional and provocative ideas.

One that emerges is to establish a "Buddy System" where each child is paired with a dedicated volunteer mentor. The mentorship program would provide one-on-one support to the children, addressing their specific educational needs and personal development goals. This approach aligns with the volunteers' desire for meaningful engagement and the children's need for personalized assistance.

Other ideas begin to surface, such as creating a digital platform that connects volunteers with different skill sets to children who require specific academic or extracurricular support. This solution provides more flexibility for volunteers while ensuring that children receive assistance in areas they need most.

Prototype 

The "Prototype" phase holds immense significance as it emphasizes the value of experimentation and transforming ideas into tangible models. Through iteration and prototyping, valuable insights emerge, shedding light on any potential gaps, barriers, constraints, or flaws in the design. This process is highly beneficial as it allows for continuous improvement and refinement of ideas. 

For the "Buddy System" mentorship program, Hopeful Steps decides to pilot the initiative with a small group of volunteers and children. They match each child with a dedicated volunteer mentor and set up a structured framework for their interactions. Through this prototype, they can observe how well the mentorship program works in practice and gather feedback from both volunteers and children.

Simultaneously, they start building the digital platform for connecting volunteers with specific skills to children in need of academic or extracurricular support. They create a user-friendly interface and test its functionality with a select group of volunteers and children to ensure its effectiveness and ease of use.

Even if redesigns or rejections occur, they are viewed as essential components of the collaborative process, fostering teamwork and driving the ultimate goal of creating something meaningful and useful for volunteers and the organization alike. 

Test 

Testing a viable solution holds immense importance, as it is crucial in validating and refining the solutions developed through the design thinking process. Engaging volunteers with a vested interest in the addressed problem is essential to ensure success. By asking open-ended questions that elicit constructive responses, such as "What problem could this solve for you?" or "How could this solution impact your experience?" nonprofits can gain valuable insights and feedback from the volunteers themselves.

The mentorship program set up by Hopeful Steps might expand to include a larger group of volunteers and children. Interactions and progress are closely monitored, seeking feedback from both volunteers and children to understand their experiences. This feedback helps assess the program's strengths and identify areas for improvement.

Simultaneously, they decide to launch a digital platform for connecting volunteers with specific skills to children in need. Volunteers and children are encouraged to provide feedback on the platform's usability and whether it adequately meets their needs. The organization pays close attention to the data and usage patterns to gauge the platform's effectiveness in matching volunteers with the right support opportunities.

This continuous optimization process is where design thinking shines, as nonprofits can use their findings and learnings from testing to refine and enhance their volunteer engagement strategies until they effectively solve the problem. By embracing this dynamic and flexible approach, nonprofits can ensure that their volunteer management efforts remain relevant, impactful, and responsive to the needs and aspirations of their volunteers.

Optimizing Nonprofit Volunteer Engagement with Sparkrock 365

Design thinking, as an intuitive problem-solving approach, becomes even more powerful when coupled with an ERP system like Sparkrock 365. 

Our cloud-based ERP solution offers a wealth of data insights that enrich the design thinking process, enabling nonprofits to make informed decisions and create impactful solutions. By integrating Sparkrock 365 with other data analytics tools, organizations can gain valuable information about their volunteers' needs, preferences, and engagement patterns. 

This data-driven approach allows nonprofits to make informed decisions, identify areas for improvement, and optimize their volunteer engagement strategies accordingly. The combination of design thinking's human-centric approach and data-driven decision-making empowers nonprofits to create more impactful and personalized experiences for their volunteers, leading to a stronger and more engaged volunteer community.

If you want to learn about our cloud-based ERP solution for nonprofits, we invite you to view our online demo here.

We've reflected on the key elements your organization should focus on as we've moved into a post-pandemic world, but there are individual components that will further gauge the overall health of your nonprofit organization and set you up for success. One such element is conducting a regulatory audit. Audits are part of good governance and a best practice for nonprofit organizations. Not only do they assure your organization's compliance, but they also provide transparency and accountability to all stakeholders.

Although they can be time-consuming and costly, audits help ensure compliance with laws and regulations, reduce the risk of fraud or other financial irregularities, and improve your organization's functionality. An audit will help strengthen the organization's financial reporting, assuring donors, funders, and the general public that your organization is fiscally responsible, and will help prepare and inform you for any future opportunities or bottlenecks.

Understanding the Two Main Types of Audits: External and Internal

Before we dive in, it's important to clarify that in addition to the varying components of this process, the two overarching types of audits conducted by organizations are external and internal.

External audits are conducted by an independent third party, a governing body such as the Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA), and other stakeholders, for example, as part of a grant agreement or as a loan condition. This type of audit is often used to verify the accuracy of financial statements and other documents and is typically used by stakeholders, such as investors, creditors, and lenders annually.

Alternatively, an organization can conduct an internal audit. Internal audit reports are used by management and can be conducted on a more regular basis, (i.e., more than once a year, or after a major change such as a pandemic) to ensure that their records, processes, and financial statements are closely examined and iterated in planned intervals. In this article, we'll focus on the latter.

Understanding the Objectives of an Internal Audit

An internal audit aims to evaluate internal control, a process effected by a nonprofit's board of directors, management, and other personnel, designed to provide reasonable assurance. Internal auditors are responsible for the audit and are appointed by the organization, usually in the form of a committee, and their findings are integrated by management.

Here are main components of an internal audit:

The internal audit will determine if these five components of management control are present and operating effectively, and if not, the goal is to provide recommendations for improvement. Now that you know the why of internal audits, let's get to the how. 

Five Steps That Will Guide You Through the Process of an Internal Audit.

1. Set up an Audit Committee

An audit typically requires access to various components of your organization to assist the board in maintaining the organization's financial credibility and integrity, all while maintaining compliance with laws and regulations. As such, it's important that your committee includes members of the board of directors and involves a sub-committee comprised of voting members independent of your organization's management and employees. Roles within the committee can be delegated within the authority of the committee.

It's important to note that when your organization is creating this committee, the auditors will not have direct operational responsibility or authority over any of the activities that are audited. While they assist in determining ideas for improvement, they aren't responsible for implementing internal controls or completing the development of procedures. They are, however, responsible for reviewing the timeline, confirming expectations for the upcoming work, finalizing pertinent dates, and reviewing the materials needed. 

2. Begin the Audit Prep Work

Once the audit committee has outlined its goal and raised any existing concerns or issues about a specific financial area they want to ensure is included in the work plan, they will need to put together the documents and information required to complete the audit. This process should include:

This preparation allows the committee to delegate responsibilities to your team, so they can answer the questions and gather the necessary documentation before the audit. 

3. Inform Employees

Communication is key for any organization, especially in high-pressure situations like an audit, which can often have a negative connotation. Before the audit, you should brief your employees to ensure they are ready to answer any questions that fall within the scope of their roles and the deliverables within them.

The audit will include interviews with various departments, so communication between management and the audit committee is typical throughout the process. Management should have regular check-ins with the audit committee and communicate any changes in timing or expectations. In return, the audit committee will regularly update management on outstanding items or milestones.

4. Have a Post-Audit Meeting with the Audit Committee

Once the audit has concluded, there is usually a post-audit meeting with the committee to conduct an initial review of the results. At this meeting, several critical topics of discussion will encompass the findings of the audit. An outline of these, as well as accounting principles selected, audit adjustments, management disagreements, and any difficulties encountered while performing the audit, will be organized into a document for a potential action plan.

5. Have a Post-Audit Meeting with the Board of Directors and Management

The audit results should also be communicated to the board members and other important stakeholders, including the general public. A positive nonprofit audit result is something to strive for, as it's indicative that the organization is reputable, trustworthy, and financially stable. While the audit itself is done, thorough preparation for the board meeting requires having a complete understanding of the organization's financials and journal entries to be able to answer potential questions. 

The final step is to prepare an action plan for implementation. After reviewing the results with the board and management, the final step is to prepare an action plan, discussing improvements and proposed solutions for implementation.

Like everything else in organizational financial governance, thorough preparation and communication are the cornerstones of a successful internal audit. 

Enhancing Internal Audits with Sparkrock 365

Conducting a robust internal audit is an essential aspect of good governance and financial management for nonprofit organizations. With the help of Sparkrock 365's modern cloud-based ERP solution, the audit process can be further streamlined. By leveraging our platform's comprehensive financial reporting and management tools, nonprofits can enhance their internal controls and ensure compliance with laws and regulations. 

Sparkrock 365 enables the efficient compilation of financial statements, bank reconciliations, payroll data, and grant details, further simplifying the audit preparation process. Moreover, its centralized database and communication features facilitate seamless collaboration between management, the audit committee, and employees during the audit. 

As the audit concludes, Sparkrock 365 equips organizations with valuable insights to develop actionable improvement plans, fostering transparency and accountability to all stakeholders. With thorough preparation and the aid of Sparkrock 365's ERP solution, nonprofit organizations can achieve successful and effective internal audits, paving the way for a reputable, trustworthy, and financially stable future. Check out the rest of our nonprofit resources here, and be sure to contact us before your next audit - we'd love to help!

James Hunter once said that for a business to thrive, it must have healthy relationships with the "CEOS" of the organization - not the Chief Executive Officers, but rather the

While nonprofits differ from businesses, they still require strong relationships to survive. Executive directors (EDs) prioritizing each of these relationships find greater success for their nonprofit.

The Role of an Executive Director

An executive director is constantly asking:

"Is this action, person, or decision serving our organization's greatest good and mission?"

The success of a nonprofit's mission largely rests on its shoulders. Versatility is needed as they must manage many demands and carry out different tasks on any given day. They're in a constant state of securing, maintaining, and improving. EDs are responsible for the following:

They're managing more than just the daily operations too. They're also a leader and spokesperson, developing strategic plans to tackle issues effectively and ensure all activities remain focused on achieving their mission.

Knowledge and Best Practices

Effective EDs will be able to work collaboratively with a board of directors and executive committee while also advocating for the organization in the local community and beyond. They need to understand public policy, current trends, and best practices in their sector. These best practices reinforce the power of connectedness, for instance:

A skilled executive director is more than just passionate about their work. They set the tone and culture for their organization, build relationships with stakeholders, and ensure proper financial management. They're committed to transparency, accountability, and trust.

Managing Focus and Organization

An essential skill for an ED is the ability to maintain focus despite constant interruptions. EDs are constantly pulled in different directions, with staff, board members, and donors all vying for their attention. It's easy for them to become consumed by the details of their organization, which can hinder their ability to have a broader perspective and implement innovative ideas.

That's why keeping a high level of organization is crucial in this role. It allows EDs to streamline their daily work while maintaining efficiency, despite the constant demands on their attention. Having a structured system in place can help with:

This ensures that nothing important falls through the cracks and is especially helpful in staying on top of deadlines, which are critical in their fundraising efforts. Missing a grant deadline or failing to follow up with potential donors is costly. So, being organized prevents these kinds of errors.

A Balancing Act in Effective Board Governance

It's challenging to manage competing demands and input from board members, but effective board governance is critical for nonprofit leaders. Board members help maintain:

Many members have full-time jobs outside of an organization, which means that while they may have input during board meetings, they may need help to carry out tasks outside of them.

In Boardsource's Leading With Intent Report, executives should evaluate board expectations and time allocation to ensure adequate board governance. The three areas that need more focus are:

  1. Creating a diverse and inclusive board, 
  2. Understanding organizational context, and 
  3. Building community relationships beyond fundraising. 

The best way for executive directors to navigate their internal hierarchy is to:

If EDs can do this, they'll create strong partnerships and lead their organization to success.

Managing Fundraising Efforts

Fundraising is a crucial skill that nonprofit executive directors must possess. Limited government funding, unstable income, and inaccurate budgeting issues can make it difficult for nonprofits to plan for future growth or maintain current operations. Without a visionary, strategic fundraising strategy, they will struggle to stay afloat and achieve their mission.

Strong fundraising skills help EDs secure resources for the nonprofit's operations. This involves working with donors, developing grant proposals, and creating campaigns to nurture the organization's current and potential supporters. At the core of these initiatives are relationships and visibility. Maintaining healthy relationships fuels the financial health of nonprofits. With accurate financial data to power these relationships, nonprofits can bolster their position. 

With real-time access to their organization's financial health, EDs can create intuitive plans for tracking and achieving their goals.

Maximize Your Impact: How ERP Tools Help Executive Directors To Drive Results

The Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution offers an all-in-one solution with multifunctional capabilities that are as cross-functional as an executive director. By efficiently managing various relationships and completing daily tasks, ERPs provide EDs with the organizational oversight they need to succeed. This allows them to increase productivity, fulfill responsibilities, and maximize their time on high-value tasks. According to BDO, executive directors can mitigate risk for their organization by aligning and leveraging technology to enhance stakeholder relationships, a critical best practice in nonprofit management.

Take, for example, The Canadian Museum of History. This nonprofit needed to implement an integrated financial and HR solution. The museum faced inefficient workflows, a lack of integration, and difficulty tracking financial data. But with Sparkrock 365's robust technology, the museum streamlined its financial processes, automated HR functions, and gained real-time visibility into its financial data. With sound financial management, EDs are empowered to find more sustainable opportunities for their organization.

The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport struggled with manual data entry, lack of automation, and difficulty accessing real-time financial data. With Sparkrock's solution, the center was able to: 

ERP solutions empower executive directors to make informed decisions for their nonprofits. Sparkrock 365 helps manage their focus, relationships, and fundraising efforts by offering a holistic view of their nonprofit operations. Real-time data enable directors to identify areas for improvement and allocate resources effectively. Understanding customer needs and preferences becomes easier through seamless integration with their customer relationship management system. And detailed fundraising reports enable executives to track progress and make targeted decisions for future programs. 

To help plan your next technology investment, read the in-depth guide to our product, Sparkrock 365. Let us take you through the benefits of integrating HR management with finances, payroll, scheduling, and the key features we've built to help executive directors fulfill their nonprofit's mission.

When it comes to the objectives that define your organization's ethos, the primary aim of most nonprofits today revolves around their mission to deliver reliable and high-quality programming and services. Financial sustainability is inextricably linked to that mission, so it should be easy to recognize that an organization with a sound financial plan is more likely to achieve that goal. What isn't so obvious, however, is the steps needed to achieve that success, especially given the changes the world experienced in the last three years.

A financial plan aimed at growing revenue for your organization while maintaining continuity, and forecasting for the future, is crucial. If your nonprofit organization needs a gut check on its financial health or steps on how to assess your organization's economic sustainability, here's a list that will help you get realigned.

Audit your Existing Plan and Optimize it to Reflect Changes.

The unprecedented repercussions of COVID-19 caused nonprofits everywhere to rethink their plans, and strategy shifts reflect our post-pandemic world. Although this new way of thinking presents challenges, nonprofits skilled at strategic financial planning are better equipped to handle surprises - good or bad. While we can't predict the future, the act of planning - based on historical data, results analysis, and financial health assessment - serves as a healthy foundation upon which an organization can base its programming. Strategic financial planning should be at the root of your organization's mission and a guiding light for measuring growth. Without it, it's impossible to measure when or whether you have met this goal. 

Questions you may ask would be: 

Make Your Growth Sustainable

Growing your nonprofit organization's revenue is contingent on the specific factors that support your overall mission, including assessing your organization's financial health. Creating a sustainable financial ecosystem should be central to your organization's decision-making process. 

A financial health assessment will inform what growth looks like by:

The hierarchy will inevitably differ depending on the structure of your organization specifically and overarching goals.

Nonprofits gain the majority of their revenue from charitable contributions or tax appropriations and measure the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations by the success of achieving their social mission. However, they can face challenges when it comes to operating in a fiscally responsible manner.

With this in mind, the goal of financial sustainability for nonprofits is to maintain or expand services within the organization while developing resilience to occasional economic shocks in the short term (for example, short-term loss of program funds or monthly variability in donations). Good questions to ask when conceptualizing this are:

How you divide your funding sources and channels has an enormous impact on your nonprofit's future and sustainability. Not only can revenue diversification help you mitigate risk, but an intentional plan for it can allow you to engage new donors or investors and deepen your current donor/investor relationships. 

Diversify Your Revenue Streams, and Adjust Accordingly

For a nonprofit with diversified revenue streams, the economic downturn, COVID-19 shutdowns, and in-person event cancellations have been challenging but have also presented an opportunity for them to reassess how they generate donations and the importance of each source.

Tip: Consider ROI as you evaluate which sources are less effective for your nonprofit. Not every revenue stream is created equal, especially when you consider your staff's time and administrative overhead. Major gifts and capital campaigns are inexpensive from a cost-per-dollar-raised perspective, and special events can get very costly. 

Plan For A Rainy Day

If there's one thing we've learned over the last three years, it's that catastrophes can happen; and if they happened once, they could happen again. With this knowledge, we are empowered to make smarter choices with the possibilities that the future can bring. Some organizations establish an operating reserve by keeping cash on hand in addition to their regular bank balances in case the steady cash flow is disrupted. 

Since nonprofits depend on multiple sources of income to support their operations, it's essential to plan for financial stability by setting aside additional funds. Reserves can allow an organization to weather serious bumps in the road, such as a sudden decrease in revenue or an unexpected expense and buy them time to implement new strategies. 

Since operating reserves are most valuable if they are reliable, an important factor in using these funds is having a realistic replenishment plan. In addition to monitoring regular bank balances, nonprofits should include a line item in their budget for adding to reserves. As circumstances change, such as when income or expenses become less predictable due to internal or external factors, nonprofits should adjust their reserve goals accordingly to ensure they have sufficient cushion.

When it comes to achieving financial sustainability for your organization, thoughtful planning and creating a model for survival and growth are key. By establishing a proactive plan and leveraging practical tools, your organization can reach its goals. Sparkrock can help you achieve this by providing software that enables your organization to thrive. Learn more about how we can support your nonprofit in achieving its financial sustainability goals. Download our guide to Sparkrock 365 for nonprofits.

Nonprofits start with an idea.

Twenty years ago, one founder witnessed resilience in war-torn Eritrea as a group of children kicked around a shirtball together.

Today, Right To Play educates and empowers over 1 million children a year to rise above adversity using the power of play.

Team Rubicon began after Haiti experienced a devastating earthquake in 2010. Now the organization mobilizes veterans globally to continue their service amidst disasters.

Polycultural Immigrant And Community Services started by helping Polish refugees in 1973. Today the organization assists over 10,000 immigrants as they adjust to their new life in Canada.

These successful nonprofits started from one idea and now help many individuals. Their expansion is the result of passion, dedication, and efficiency.

At the very core of all nonprofits is their mission to help. Whether it's to serve, to provide, or to protect, nonprofits drive social impact. Unfortunately, these organizations need more than just a mission; they need fast-tracked, interpretive solutions to achieve their goals.

How can nonprofits sustain their mission long enough to grow in today's world?

Artificial Intelligence has the potential to redefine the ways organizations operate. Microsoft made an exciting announcement to install artificial intelligence into all of its products. This enhancement will help nonprofits thrive in an oversaturated, competitive landscape, sharpening their efficacy, decision-making, and innovation.

Improved Funding and Planning Initiatives

Without funders, nonprofits can't continue doing their important work. And without thoughtful planning, these organizations can get cast aside for their lack of clarity and transparency.

A stronger system of inputs can assist in yielding better outcomes. Accelerating their mission requires nonprofits to manage several incoming resources, such as:

With an AI-enhanced ERP solution, nonprofits can achieve maximum productivity in fundraising, proposals, strategic planning, and the bottom line.

Fundraising

Fundraising is essential for the sustainability of nonprofits. However, identifying potential donors and tracking donations can be challenging. With smarter technology, organizations can automate their fundraising efforts. AI, for instance, can quickly analyze past donation data and identify trends to determine potential donors. Without the use of AI, executive directors and administrative assistants need to complete this labor-intensive task on their own. Instead of spending time on reporting, AI predictions can free up executive directors' time to spend on more important tasks, such as building relationships with their donors to maximize donor retention rates. Studies show that "nonprofits that boast a high retention rate have loyal supporters who come back year after year to donate to the organization." Without repeat donors, nonprofits must scour new financial opportunities to stay afloat.

Additionally, AI can help nonprofits automate their donor stewardship efforts. By analyzing donor behavior and preferences, nonprofits can customize their communication to increase engagement and build stronger relationships. This level of personalization can include recommendations for specific amounts to donate or suggestions on campaigns that match the donor's interests.

Grant Writing

Grant writing is a necessary avenue for raising money in the nonprofit space, but unfortunately, writing plays only a small part in getting the actual grant. Grant approvals have many factors, including:

Before the introduction of AI capabilities, many of these factors were out of nonprofits' hands. While there's no concrete formula for getting grant approvals, AI can help organizations strengthen their positioning.

Grant writing's complex process requires thorough research and analysis. This is a considerable time investment for a fickle and, at times, fruitless outcome. With AI enhancement to an ERP, nonprofits can simplify the grant writing process. AI can analyze past successful grant applications and identify the key factors contributing to their success. It can also recommend potential grant opportunities based on the organization's focus areas and past grant history.

AI can also help nonprofits tailor their grant proposals to fit specific requirements. By analyzing the application guidelines and the organization's past performance, AI can provide recommendations on structuring the proposal and highlighting the organization's strengths. While it can't promise grant monies, AI can reduce the time spent creating proposals.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is essential for nonprofits to achieve their goals and maximize their impact. Unfortunately, there are challenges in gathering and analyzing the necessary data to inform strategic decisions. AI can help nonprofits mine data to inform their strategic planning efforts. This technology plays a significant role because it reduces the time it takes to analyze complex data sets. According to Deloitte, it also offers organizations "continuously monitored strategic plans," which helps constituents make better decisions and take swift but informed action.

ERP solutions that utilize AI capabilities can quickly analyze past performance data and pinpoint areas where the organization can improve. This will ultimately reduce potential risks since AI's predictive software can provide recommendations on how to mitigate them. By analyzing external factors, such as economic trends or changes in the political landscape, this modern technology can help nonprofits adjust their strategic plans to adapt to changing circumstances.

Budgeting

If economic conditions worsen in 2023, already declining operating reserves may continue to shrink. According to BDO's survey data, 38% of organizations had over 12 months of operating reserves in 2021. These reserves continued to drop to 27% in 2022 as federal stimulus funding that once boosted liquidity depleted and market conditions changed. 

With uncertain economic times, budgeting continues to be a critical aspect of nonprofit operations. Unfortunately, it can be arduous to forecast revenue and expenses with accuracy. With an AI-powered ERP solution, streamlined budget automation can help organizations make more knowledgeable decisions.

AI can analyze past financial data and key trends to help nonprofits forecast revenue and expenses precisely. It can also provide recommendations on where to allocate resources to maximize impact. For example, if AI could identify programs with a higher return on investment, it can recommend an organization to increase funding for that program.

Modern Technology Can Improve a Nonprofit's Capacity To Fuel Their Mission

AI can transform nonprofit operations and help organizations achieve their goals. With the integration of this technology in systems like ERPs or CRMs, nonprofits will be able to:

By using AI to streamline their operations, nonprofits can focus on accelerating their mission and maximizing their impact.

Nonprofits must arm themselves with modern solutions to succeed during these economic times. A comprehensive ERP system designed specifically for nonprofits like Sparkrock 365 can help streamline operations, reduce the risk of errors and delays, and improve decision-making.

Microsoft continues to support its customers through innovative solutions like AI. They've invested billions into the OpenAI platform that powers technology like ChatGPT. Sparkrock 365 will adopt and integrate that same technology with our Microsoft-powered ERP solution. We're excited to share that vision with our customers and encourage you to connect with us for a chat. 

Are you ready for digital transformation? Reach out to a Sparkrock 365 representative today.

Data is the gold standard of today's modern world. It plays a critical role in decision-making for many organizations but is especially helpful for nonprofit organizations.

Adopting a data culture can help nonprofits improve their efficacy and efficiency and better position them to make a lasting impact. Nonprofits are nothing without their mission. They work tirelessly to bring about change and help those in need, but things can get murky when they don't have the right data to make informed decisions. With a systematic, data-driven approach, they can quickly deliver key insights to board members and constituents.

Often underfunded and understaffed, nonprofits struggle financially. They're competing against other organizations for the same limited pool of resources. And when employees manually handle payroll, workforce management, human resources, and other administrative tasks, they waste time, energy, and funding. Switching to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution can help nonprofits access better data and insights, making it easier to demonstrate their worth to the public.

6 Benefits of Having a Data Culture in Nonprofits

When nonprofits leverage a data-first approach, they reap many benefits, such as:

Data metrics help create definable goals while eliminating the superfluous. Since nonprofit budgets are always tight, a data culture provides an extra layer of protection.

1) Efficient Fundraising Efforts

Access to data can help nonprofits improve their funding outcomes. With the right systems in place, organizations can get access to data that helps them better understand factors that influence fundraising initiatives, like:

Often, nonprofits will integrate their ERP system with their CRM. This software helps track all communications with donors while segmenting them based on demographics and interests. This segmentation allows nonprofits to build solid relationships and personalize their fundraising initiatives. Instead of sending a one-size-fits-all fundraising campaign, nonprofits can easily create messaging that will resonate with each sub-group.

When integrated, a CRM and ERP system can provide a holistic view of an organization's operations, enabling staff to manage donor relationships more effectively while streamlining core business processes. This integration can lead to increased efficiency, better communication, and improved outcomes for the nonprofit.

Nonprofits that use data from both systems to understand their fundraising efforts yield the highest outcomes. As a result, organizations can create thoughtful campaigns and add more surplus.

2) Competitive Advantage

Nonprofits are constantly vying for the same small pool of funding sources. The competition is steep, and proposals for grants aren't always accepted. Most struggle with their success rate and verifiable outcomes. According to The National Center on Charitable Statistics, nonprofits' failure rate is over 30% within the first 10 years. Without quantitative data, funders lack the confidence to provide support. But, with a data culture, nonprofits can weave their success rate into their mission, creating a compelling, stand-out story in an oversaturated space.

3) Improved Communications

With an ERP system, nonprofits can fix performance issues and inefficient procedures. Inaction and financial mismanagement kill organizations, but a data culture helps build a seamless infrastructure. Nonprofits can use data to communicate more efficiently with directors, volunteers, and board members by sharing important procedures and operations such as:

4) Cost-effective 

Nonprofits founded in data culture avoid wasting resources on undesirable programs or initiatives. Without this excessive waste, nonprofits can focus on programs that drive more impact. Moreover, data can help nonprofits streamline manual and redundant processes saving them even more time and money.

Imagine a small 501c3 collecting donations from various sources for different causes, and the organization needs something to automate or streamline donation collection or tracking. They're likely managing multiple lists on multiple platforms and exporting and importing spreadsheets for every donation and donor.

Time is money, and this is not time well spent. Moreover, manual labor alone results in energy depletion and leaves room for errors. With a data culture, nonprofits have a consolidated view of their donors and can easily create cost and labor-saving systems.

5) Improved reporting

An ERP system allows nonprofits to track and report on important operational metrics easily. These might include:

Form filling and fundraising plans are essential to bringing money into nonprofits, but applying for those much-needed grants requires the right dataset. With an ERP, nonprofits can leverage key insights to clearly define their roadmap and strategic plan one year ahead and five or even ten years. 

6) Greater Credibility

Nonprofits must have an upstanding reputation and always promote transparency and accountability.

With data-driven decision-making, nonprofits can easily communicate their programs' results and impact to their stakeholders. This level of transparency allows nonprofits to build trust with their donors, supporters, and the communities they serve and demonstrate the value of their work.

Data culture helps nonprofits achieve their goals and make a lasting impact. With an ERP, Nonprofits can use data to prioritize their infrastructure by:

Embracing a culture of data guides nonprofits with insightful decision-making so they can continue doing the crucial work of helping others.

Choose An ERP Solution Today To Help Build A Data Culture

An ERP platform can make all the difference in any nonprofit organization's day-to-day operations. And while many solutions are on the market, Sparkrock's innovative ERP software is designed with nonprofit organizations in mind. With Sparkrock 365 and Microsoft, you can access integrated data capabilities, AI, and machine learning to enable organization-wide data connectivity. Contact the Sparkrock 365 team today to learn more about our services and see what our software can do for your nonprofit.

It's no secret that the world is shifting to cloud-based software — and nonprofits are no exception. However, implementing a cloud-based ERP solution and using it to its full potential are two very different things. If your nonprofit organization is thinking about making the switch to a cloud-based ERP, read on below on how to maximize your benefits.

Start With the Right Platform

Logically, it all begins with selecting the right cloud-based ERP software to suit your nonprofit specifically. As you explore your options for cloud business software, you'll likely notice that many of these platforms are advertised as being "one-size-fits-all" solutions; in reality, each industry is unique and thus needs an ERP platform that can cater to the nuances of your organization.

Ideally, then, you'll choose an ERP platform that is specifically designed with nonprofits in mind. Sparkrock 365, for example, offers the only SaaS-based ERP software designed precisely for the needs of nonprofit organizations just like yours.

Set Aside Time for Training

One of the biggest mistakes nonprofits make when implementing an ERP platform is simply not setting aside enough time (or resources) for proper training on the new software. It's important to understand that growing accustomed to a cloud-based platform will take some time and adjustment for many. To really get the most out of all the features and benefits your cloud ERP has to offer, you need to make sure that your employees and volunteers are knowledgeable and confident in using the system.

With this in mind, you will need to set aside plenty of time for training on the new platform before it is implemented. From there, ongoing training sessions will continue to provide workers with the support they need to put your nonprofit's ERP solution to work for your cause.

Take Advantage of Analytics

One of the most significant benefits that cloud-based ERP software offers nonprofit organizations is the data analytics and reporting feature. Rather than handling data manually, the right ERP solution for your nonprofit can automatically gather data, generate reports and provide your team with valuable insights that can go on to inform your future decisions. Meanwhile, you'll be freeing up more of your organization's valuable time by not needing to create these reports and analyze these metrics manually.

Of course, you'll only be able to take full advantage of these features if you know how to use them correctly. Take some time to explore your ERP solution's analytics and reporting capabilities. Make sure you know how to define specific parameters, generate reports and understand them so that you can make decisions for your organization with greater confidence.

Eliminate Burdensome Paperwork

Another way a cloud-based ERP platform can help nonprofit organizations is by eliminating the need for time-consuming (and resource-wasting) paperwork. You may already be painfully aware of just how much time is wasted on a regular basis in filling out and filing paperwork related to your cause.

When implemented and used correctly, an ERP platform can help automate and even eliminate the need for some of your paperwork and other manual processes. This, in turn, frees up time and resources to work more productively towards your cause. However, to get the most out of your ERP software, you must understand its workings inside and out so that you can eliminate paperwork and other time-consuming processes.

Collaborate in Real-Time

One of the ways in which ERP solutions are often overlooked (especially in nonprofit organizations) is in the ability to collaborate in real-time with other employees and volunteers. This feature can be extremely powerful, especially in a nonprofit where you may be just one big idea away from changing the world and furthering your mission.

When selecting an ERP platform for your nonprofit, make sure you fully understand how to use the software's real-time collaboration features. From there, make this a major focus of your training before you implement an ERP platform within your organization. When workers understand how they can better collaborate with other employees who share the same vision, they can come up with some truly incredible ideas.

Sparkrock 365 is Here to Help

Getting the most out of an ERP platform for nonprofits isn't as simple as finding the right software and implementing it within your organization. To truly get your money's worth, you need to understand the features your platform has to offer and ensure that your employees are properly trained as well. However, with a bit of time and effort on your part, your nonprofit can begin reaping all the benefits that the right ERP solution has to offer. And when it comes to ERP software specifically designed with nonprofits in mind, Sparkrock 365 is a great choice; reach out today to learn more!

When you manage a Nonprofit organization, you have to be conscious of your time management and budgeting at all times. After all, time is money — and every dollar wasted has a negative impact on your mission.

Unfortunately, if you're still handling your payroll, workforce management, human resources and other administrative tasks manually, your Nonprofit is probably wasting a lot of time and funding. By making the switch to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, you can begin automating many of these tasks while enjoying numerous other benefits.

1. Improve Grant Management

If your nonprofit is like many others, you rely heavily on grants and other funding to continue your operation. Unfortunately, tedious and time-consuming administrative tasks can take valuable time away from managing these. By switching to reliable ERP software, your nonprofit can make better use of its time and free up working hours to apply for more grants while also more accurately tracking current expenditures through automated reporting.

2. Avoid Budgeting Issues

Tracking your organization's spending and keeping a close eye on your budgeting is made easier with ERP software. In fact, an ERP platform even makes it easy to set up alerts so that you are notified when a project goes over budget or when money is spent. By knowing that your organization is sticking to its budget at all times, your nonprofit can more confidently work towards its mission of helping others while utilizing less time tracking spending.

3. Enhance Fund Management

Nonprofits also tend to work with many different funding sources at any given time, complicating things from a budgeting perspective. Keeping track of budgeting and spending through different funding sources can be confusing and time-consuming — and with so many moving parts, there is always a chance of miscalculation or other errors.



With an ERP solution, your Nonprofit can enjoy automated tracking of all your funding and spending — even when it's from multiple sources. You can also take advantage of things like automated reporting and easy management and filtering of different funds to suit your needs.

4. Streamline Reporting

Accurate reporting is a must when you run a Nonprofit organization. Whether you're pitching to a possible donor or are presenting to current contributors, being able to showcase data in an easy-to-interpret manner helps your case. With ERP software, you can enjoy seamless and automated reporting, which saves you time and allows you to present to your donors (and potential donors) with greater confidence.

Different Types of ERP Software Available

Not sure where to begin when it comes to ERP solutions for your Nonprofit organization? There are a couple of main types to choose from: SaaS and cloud-based.

SaaS (Software as a Service) platforms are essentially out-of-the-box solutions that run on the vendor's servers and operate using an internet connection. Many nonprofits enjoy this type of ERP solution due to the low operational expenses, easy scalability and automated upgrades/updates.



With a cloud-based ERP platform, all software is handled through a remote server. This allows users to access the software from just about any device with an internet connection. A cloud-based ERP solution can be a sensible choice for Nonprofits that need quick and easy transfer of data, as well as easy maintenance and predictable long-term costs.

Ultimately, the best ERP solution for your organization will depend on your budget and specific needs. Some solutions are more customizable than others, whereas others may offer steadier long-term costs.

Make the Switch to an ERP Solution Today

An ERP platform can make all the difference in any nonprofit organization’s day-to-day operations. And while there are many solutions to choose from, Sparkrock's innovative ERP software is specifically designed with nonprofit organizations in mind. Reach out to the Sparkrock team today to learn more about our services and see what our software can do for your nonprofit!

Everybody at your nonprofit organization works hard to make the world a better place. And regardless of your mission, all nonprofit organizations have to track things like employees, finances and other crucial data points. The logging, tracking and analysis can be time-consuming and take valuable resources away from your core mission. The good news? Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software can free up time and resources within your organization so you can focus more on achieving your goals and less on mundane administrative tasks.

What is Enterprise Resource Planning?

So, what is an ERP system, anyway? Specifically, ERP refers to software and systems that have been specifically designed to manage many of the tedious administrative tasks of an organization. This can include things like finances, budgeting, human resources, payroll, workforce management and more. Ultimately, an ERP solution helps connect different departments and segments of a larger organization to communicate better and improve performance. Meanwhile, these solutions can help to free up valuable time and resources.

The History of Enterprise Resource Planning

While the term was not coined until the 1990s by the Gartner Group, the concept of enterprise resource planning has actually been around since the early 1900s. By 2000, the first cloud-based ERP software solutions were introduced to the market. These platforms were the first to use the internet rather than relying on organizations to have their own on-site servers.

Today, ERP solutions come in the form of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Anything-as-a-Service (XaaS) to suit the changing needs of businesses and organizations across the globe.

Benefits of Enterprise Resource Planning for Nonprofits

There are countless benefits of ERP software, especially as it relates to Nonprofit organizations. Specifically, the right ERP software offers one unified solution for purchasing, reporting, human resources, budgeting and more.

One of the most valuable features of an ERP platform for nonprofit organizations is the seamless and automated reporting. Consider, for example, that many nonprofit organizations are expected to provide detailed reporting to their funders; these reports can be extremely time-consuming to produce and play a major role in future funding for the organization.

An ERP system can automate much of a nonprofit's reporting so that employees can free up their time and resources to handle other work. Meanwhile, you can rest assured that the reports generated by ERP software will be detailed, accurate and ready to present to board members or other funders with confidence. Reporting can also help nonprofits make better-informed decisions about their operations.

Likewise, ERP software can save nonprofit organizations time and money — and while profits are never the focus of these organizations, the reality is that freeing up money to allocate elsewhere can help nonprofits better reach their goals and achieve their missions. An ERP platform can save organizations time and money by cutting back on time-consuming and repetitive data entry. At the same time, automation reduces the chances of human errors and other data entry mistakes that can be costly.

Finally, because ERP software can handle payroll and accounting, nonprofits can help keep employee morale up by ensuring that they are paid the correct amount and in a timely manner. Common payroll and accounting mistakes can be avoided, and employees can always rest assured that they will receive the correct amounts on their checks.

Industries and Applications for Enterprise Resource Planning

No matter what industry your nonprofit operates in, ERP solutions can provide several benefits. Some of the more common industries where ERP solutions are often adopted include:

Meanwhile, the right ERP platform can help to tackle any of the following applications:

Get Started With Enterprise Resource Planning Today

If your nonprofit organization is still disjointed and handling its human resources, payroll and other administrative tasks manually, it's time to explore ERP solutions. Specifically, a platform like Sparkrock 365 streamlines your operations while freeing up time and money. From there, your organization can focus more on what matters most: working towards its mission and making the world a better place. Contact us today to find out more or to get started!

Are you ready to spark change?

With Sparkrock 365, you'll have the tools to manage your finances and workforce more efficiently so you can focus on what you do best. Go from paper-based processes to intelligent online workflows, and access the data you need to make a real difference in your community.
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