Clouds in the Community: Why Small Non-Profits are Turning to Online Database Management


What does it mean to a company to save $20,000? For bottom line style business, it can mean very little, but for non-profits and NGO’s 20 grand can go a long way. Running a successful not-for-profit requires managers to make smart and sustainable choices while performing a series of staffing and accounting miracles. Your people and your money need to take on an elasticity that would make the private sector’s head explode. Community service and development organizations are delivering programs on a fraction of the money that goes in to consumer services and goods, meaning saving on money and resources is an operational imperative.  For non-profits, moving a database online  and to the cloud frees up time and money in addition to the improved management and automation of payroll, online databases, agency website, and general organizational functions.

In September of 2013 Connecting Up and TechSoup Global, partnered to survey various not-for-profit agencies about the “current state of their technology infrastructure, plus their future plans for adopting cloud technologies.” Feedback from a whopping 10,500 respondents in 88 countries worldwide indicated that 90% were using the cloud in one way or another for everything from emailing and online database management to web conferencing. And even though a lack of knowledge and general understanding of online databases and cloud computing were reported as barriers to uptake for many working within not-for-profit sector, 79% indicated that the “biggest advantage in adopting cloud technologies is administration-related, followed by cost and improved opportunities for collaboration.”

Using the interwebs for good

Cloud computing is cheap, relatively speaking, and can be even more so for the little guys. Truth be told, pioneers and early adopters of online databases were mostly small businesses looking to save. Getting online can mean reduced, or even zero dollar, fees for system implementation or licensing and many service providers give the option to pay monthly or per-user accessing the online database within their group. Cha-ching!

From an operational perspective, organizations can build an online database that allows for easy administration of outside donations made via email, website or social media outlets. Donor information is easily tracked and stored within the agency’s secure and customized online database while automated thanks and information are expediently forwarded to the donor.

Creating customized fillable forms and templates can create continuity and simplify completion of internal administrative activities with online data entered and maintained in real-time by multiple users. Same goes for event planning. Staff can access up-to-date details concerning an event from a single source within the agency’s online database keeping everyone on the same page throughout the planning process.

Privacy on the internet: it does exist  

Privacy, confidentiality, and security are not only the backbone of most not-for-profits, they’re legally required and any online database service provider mixed up in do-goodery must mirror these values. Federal regulations governing cloud services and database security in the United States are trying their best to keep up with increased use and demand. The Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagement No. 16 (SSAE 16) governed by the American Institute of CPAs, gives vendors the option to deliver assurances that can be integrated into the customer’s broader risk management framework. That means regular checks at regular intervals as well as standards for service delivery.

Storing personal client-level data online is a legal minefield to be navigated by lawyers. It is done but needs vary and are highly personalized for individual organizations.

Reflect, project, and decide

Complete a comprehensive costs benefit analysis to determine if migrating to the cloud will in fact be cheaper than hosting the information on-site. Being a non-profit with a service mission and mandated core values, it’s important to be sure third party online database hosts understand your raison d’être and can jive with organizational culture and operations.

Change is icky and moving a mountain of information to an online database can feel risky and permanent. Select a service provider who has successfully completed an implementation for a similar organization and determine if the appropriate contingencies to manage a system outage are in place. It’s also important that both the client and service provider agree that agency data belongs to the agency. If one day the Board of Directors decides it’s time to ride on another cloud, be sure your online database can be migrated back to an in-house server or to a new vendor without costing a fortune.

To request a copy of the Connecting Up and TechSoup Global survey, click here.

For more information about The Statement on Standards for Attestation Engagement No. 16 (SSAE 16), click here.


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