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  • Ryan Brooks

Does My Nonprofit Need Case Management Software?

Updated: Jan 23

When Is Data Management Software Worth It for My Human Service Nonprofit?


If you’re thinking about getting new software to manage your nonprofit’s service delivery and outcome data, then you’ve probably experienced problems with your current approach to collecting and reporting data about your outputs, outcomes, and case management.


It's never free to change your data management software (AKA: case management software, impact management software). Sometimes you’ll need specialized developers to help you build the application ($$$), or you might need to pay a sizable up front payment ($$$) for training and setup. Of course, 99% of data tracking applications for nonprofits will have monthly fees ($-$$) to consider. At minimum, you are investing time to train and onboard your staff, and that’s time you can’t spend doing mission oriented work.


When a nonprofit adopts data management software, it is trading money for time and data quality. The tension is obvious. Data management software can save you time to deliver more or higher quality services, but that’s money you can’t spend on rental assistance or backpacks, or infant formula. However, your ability to deliver services is also hampered when you spend excess time managing data collection and reports.


The question is, when is it worth it to make the switch?


Of course, it depends.


It Might Not be Worth It to Upgrade Your Nonprofit's Data Management Software When...


1. Your nonprofit's program data is easy to record in a single spreadsheet with just a few fields. For example, your nonprofit's only service is providing meals in a food pantry, and your data is simple. You collect name, address, phone number, meals provided, date of services, and family size. You simply want the total number of meals you give out and the total number of families.


In this case, upgrading to a more expensive data management system might not be worth it. It probably won’t save much time in exchange for money.


2. Your nonprofit isn’t data oriented and doesn’t plan to be. Maybe your church gives out a hot meal twice a month and you don’t really want to track data.


If data isn't a priority, then you won't get much value for your money.


3. You have a completely/mostly volunteer staff and don’t have the time or consistency to train someone on a more sophisticated system. This is a reality for many organizations - a part-time ED and a group of volunteers can do a tremendous amount of good in the world; but that arrangement isn’t ideal for building and training staff on data collection software unless it’s very simple or well documented.


Even in these circumstances, your nonprofit might still benefit from upgrading your case management software. The software often makes reporting faster, and it could be easier to use than a spreadsheet. However, if your nonprofit has simple data, doesn't prioritize data, or would have to spend time training and retraining users, then proceed cautiously.


It is Probably Worth It to Upgrade Your Nonprofit's Data Management Software if...


1. You’re using spreadsheets to do a lot of repetitive work. Does this process sound familiar?


Step 1: Copy data from spreadsheet A to spreadsheet B.

Step 2: Sort Data By Last Name.

Step 3: Delete Duplicates,

Step 4: Get Sums and Averages ok key fields.

Step 5: Google how to create that bar chart again...


In short, you’re wasting a lot of time, and each step of that process introduces the possibility of errors that will make your results wrong.


2. You have multiple services with data stored in multiple spreadsheets.


Working with data in multiple spreadsheets is possible. But, this approach can grow more difficult over time as your data changes or you add new spreadsheets to account for new services.


3. You have trouble getting the data you need to create reports and write proposals.


Imagine that we have 2 programs and 7 different services. Some participants are in both programs. Some participants dropped out in April or May, but others completed in July. With more data and filtering requirements, it's harder to isolate the precise data you need.


4. Related to 2 and 3 above, you aren’t confident in the numbers you report because of the difficulty getting the data you need to calculate them.


5. Multiple people can access data management software, and you have no security to prevent someone from deleting data or altering a form.


6. Your critical data isn’t backed up.


This is obviously true if you are using paper files and possibly true if you are using a spreadsheet.


7. You can’t easily share access to data or reporting tools.


Maybe you have a great Access database, but it's in Dwayne’s cubicle, on the old computer with the loud fan and it’s super hot over there because of the radiator.


Remember, we are trading money for time and data quality, and the reasons above represent wasted time as well as a risk that your data could be wrong (or lost) and reports could have errors.


If you are experiencing one or more of these, then reflect on the questions below to help you decide if your nonprofit should upgrade your data management software.


Things to Consider When Upgrading Your Nonprofit Data Tracking and Case Management Software


When answering these questions, think about your nonprofit as it is today, and think about what it could be in 6-12 months.


  • Can you (or a team member) develop the skills to manage the new case management software in 3-6 months if you don't have them now?

  • Can you find a way to afford the cost by cutting other expenses or getting more funding?

  • Can your team embrace a new way of working that's still consistent with your mission and values?


Financial Considerations for Nonprofit Data Management Software


1. Can my organization afford the up front fee if there is one?


2. Can we afford the monthly fee? How much does the price change when we add more users, and can we afford that new price?


3. Will we be tied into a long term contract (e.g. 1 year or more) or can we leave when we want?


4. Will it require specialized skills that are expensive (i.e. we’d need to hire a consultant), or can we do the work ourselves?


Technical Considerations for Nonprofit Data Management Software


1. Can someone on my team learn to manage the site, or will we always need a specialized developer’s help?


2. Does the software allow me to collect the data I need to collect in a manner that’s consistent with the way we deliver services?


Ex 1: If your organization mostly provides brief, transactional services - like a food pantry might do - does the software allow you to easily and repeatedly record those services?


Ex 2: If your organization assigns every participant a case manager or coach and builds a “case plan” or "coaching plan" with each participant, does the software allow you to build plans that meet your needs?


3. Does the software make it easier for me to quickly create trustworthy reports? This can be done through data exports and/or built-in reporting tools.


Programmatic Considerations for Nonprofit Data Management Software


1. Will case management software help my organization deliver more services or higher quality services?


In other words, can my team spend less time on “data tasks” and more time delivering services if we adopt this software? Will service quality improve if data about clients is easier to review while we work with them?


2. Will the reporting capabilities of data management software help us better understand our service delivery, strengths, areas for improvement, and costs?


3. Will data management software make it easier for our nonprofit to report to funders and obtain additional grant funding?


4. How can we improve our programming if we have better data and faster reports?


Mission, Human Resources, & Culture Considerations for Nonprofit Data Management Software


1. Is there anything in your mission, vision, or values statements that would indicate you should not adopt new data management software?


Maybe your mission compels you to record almost no data about your participants to protect their privacy or anonymity.


2. Are your staff comfortable learning new software, and can they do it in a reasonable amount of time?


3. Conversely, are staff frustrated or exhausted by your current service tracking and case management systems?


4. How can you prepare your organization to adapt to new ways of interacting with participants which includes data tracking and case management software?


It can be difficult to move from paper files and/or limited data collection to a data management system that includes more intense and regular tracking of outputs and outcomes.


How To Decide When to Buy Data Management Software for Your Nonprofit


Your decision should hinge on whether1) the tradeoff of money for time and data quality is a net positive for your nonprofit, and 2) you believe your nonprofit has the capacity (financial, HR, technical, etc) to successfully adopt the software.


If so, start shopping. There are lots of options that can fit your organization’s budget, feature requirements, and technical skills. Before you start looking, check out our article that explains the minimum requirements for nonprofit data management software.



How to Find Data Management Software Vendors


It's a little trickier that you might think.


Start by asking your colleagues and professional network. They can talk with you about what they use, maybe give you a quick demo, and share pros and cons.


You'll probably also want to search online. Unfortunately, this software goes by many names, and that's challenge for your internet searches. "Human Service Case Management Software" is a good initial search term, and you can also try "Impact Measurement Software", "Nonprofit Outcome Tracking Software", "Service Tracking Database for nonprofits", and others. Try out a few search terms when you are shopping for this type of software.




Reporting your impact is hard when you’re juggling spreadsheets. countbubble makes it easy so you can focus on your mission.


countbubble is simplified nonprofit data management software. Learn how we can help your nonprofit spend less time on data, and more time supporting your community.


Email us at contact@countbubble.com or sign up for email updates on blog posts, product news, or scheduling a demo.


Founder, CountBubble, LLC


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