5 signs your nonprofit needs to update its business processes

Aug 16, 2022

Key takeaways

The business processes of many nonprofits are stuck in the past 

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Modernizing is key to increasing an organization’s impact

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Key indicators let nonprofits know it may be time to upgrade their technology

Nonprofit Digital transformation

How do you know if your nonprofit needs to modernize?

Being stuck in the past is not a good place to be. However, many nonprofit organizations continue to operate the same way—year after year or even decade after decade—when more effective and inexpensive options can be implemented. The mission may not have changed, but the optimal way of conducting business certainly has. Modernizing has never been more crucial for mission-driven organizations. Inefficient procedures can bust budgets, create internal turmoil and limit the ability to achieve mission objectives. In contrast, improving your nonprofit’s operational efficiency can greatly increase your organization’s impact. So how do you know if it’s time to update your processes? Here are some signs that your nonprofit needs to modernize:

1. Paper everywhere

The most glaring issue is when a nonprofit has skipped technology altogether. Hard copies have their uses, but there is likely not a single situation or process in which paper is a better solution than digital. Nonprofits that rely on paperwork rather than technology are not just losing the race. They aren’t even at the starting line.

2. Email overload

You’ve received five emails from four different people, with three different versions of the same document. You need to download the attachment, reformat it and email it out again. But then someone is accidentally left out of the email chain, and another person has the message trapped in her spam folder, and … well, it just gets worse from there. It’s far more efficient to automate decisions, track changes and establish approval flows outside of emails. Online dashboards—such as those within enterprise resource planning enterprise resource planning (ERP), content management (CMS) or customer relationship management customer relationship management (CRM) systems—allow you to set up processes so you don't need to email every request. People can access the dashboard and work within the system. Everything is tracked, no one is left out and communication is vastly improved.

3. Spreadsheet dependency

Microsoft Excel is a great tool for static data storage and presentation, but it is usually not optimal for dynamic data that is constantly changing. For many nonprofits, Excel or other spreadsheet programs have become the default application for too many functions, even if there are better tools that are specifically designed for certain activities. For example, grant financial reports and trackers can be built and updated directly within an ERP, and member data can exclusively reside within an association management system (AMS). Doing the same task in Excel might get a similar result, but only after a great deal more effort and with a higher error rate. The more you use Excel for everything, the more likely it is that your technology is not being optimized.

4. Manual data entry

One of the most powerful aspects of technology is its ability to automate processes. However, many nonprofits still rely on planting a staff member in front of a computer to manually input mounds of data. But whether it's membership management, event organization or some other essential function, there is likely a way to automate the entire process. Wasting staff members’ time by having them type in names or numbers is not just inefficient. It is also prone to errors and can lead to job dissatisfaction. If names or numbers exist somewhere, like on a statement or a third-party report, chances are that it can be uploaded or automatically brought into your core systems of record. Automating your processes can make manual entry seem like a relic from another era—which is exactly what it is.

5. Same data, different systems

The nonprofit world, unfortunately, seems more prone than other industries to put information into silos and maintain data in separate systems. Often, an organization’s development team maintains the donor records in their database, but the finance team tracks invoices in the accounting system, and the marketing team tracks the fundraising campaign and so on. Furthermore, these different systems usually do not communicate with one another, so when there are discrepancies (if those are even looked for), who is right? Keeping the same information in different places means staff members have to double their effort, or even triple it if they reconcile the competing systems. The solution is to link data in a centralized system, like a data warehouse, that eliminates duplicate information and redundant tasks, while maintaining master data records to be used across the technology ecosystem. Data gets entered once and is immediately reconciled for different uses. Again, technology can automate this process and keep the organization’s data up to date and accessible.


Most nonprofit professionals have seen and felt the aftermath of botched technology implementations. But upgrading your nonprofit’s technology does not have to be a scary or intimidating process. On the contrary, it can be exciting to unleash your organization’s full potential, freeing it from the constraints of antiquated systems. Of course, it is imperative to work with technology experts when implementing new approaches. Therefore, partnering with a technology provider that has a proven track record—and understands your industry as well as the latest software and its applicability to your practices—is key for a successful implementation. Together, you can make your nonprofit more strategic, more efficient and more successful.

RSM contributors

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