The Hidden Cost of Manual Reports for Nonprofits
Nonprofits engage in a wide range of activities to fulfill their missions, but one thing that they have in common is the need for accountability, and that typically means detailed reports on activities and finances. These reports must be updated frequently and distributed to all the right stakeholders such as donors, grantors, auditors and even the public. Without timely and accurate reporting, you cannot be sure that you are managing resources effectively and creating the biggest possible impact.
Unfortunately, the way that many nonprofit reports are created imposes a hidden cost of the manual labor involved each month, quarter, or year, along with the potential for error inherent in compiling data manually from multiple sources.
Another hidden cost is the communication and collaboration required to get information together from multiple departments and systems such as accounting, fundraising, and program management. There are many opportunities for communication to lapse or introduce misinterpretations of the data.
Excel is still understandably the most popular and universal reporting tool. It has great features of calculations, crosstabs, and graphs to make data more easily understood.
In theory, reporting would be easier if your nonprofit had only one system, and all data was managed there. Some organizations have tried this approach, but generally it has not been as successful, and it might appear. Specialized systems have evolved for various functions and these “best of breed” products offer better capabilities and sometimes better pricing that “one size fits all” solutions. For instance, nonprofits would not expect to use their financial system to track potential donors, manage mass fundraising emails nor track all the details of an online auction because niche products are available for these functions. Accounting data should be tightly controlled and adding more users from departments outside the accounting function could compromise the quality of data.
All this means that centralizing in a single system may force unacceptable compromises in features and performance and could even drive-up software licensing and subscription costs.
You can simplify reporting by adopting an enterprise architectural which maximizes compatibility among your business applications. If you use the same reporting tools or data visualization such as Microsoft BI across multiple systems you make it easier to create and maintain reports regardless of the department that owns the data. There are also economies of software licensing and training if you standardize software products.
Another approach for streamlining reporting is to integrate your department applications so you do not have to re-enter data. You can create custom integrations or use integration products with prebuilt connectors to go between your accounting, program management, marketing, and other systems.
Vendors such as Microsoft are increasing open to integrations, even with their archrivals. Microsoft Power Apps and Power Automate have connectors to hundreds of products such as Salesforce, Oracle, Box, and more.
Integrations will help you get all the data you need for reports in one place which can streamline report writing.
Finally, one of the best ways to reduce the cost of manual reporting is the simplest. If you can plan the reports you need and get agreement on standard reporting outputs and formats you can cut back on custom reporting labor dramatically. You may not be able to eliminate last minute requirements or demands from outside agents such as board members or donors but planning more comprehensive reports before they are requested can go a long way toward eliminating the hidden cost of reporting.
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