The economic crisis has forced third sector organisations to take a hard look at the way they do things. Greater pressure has been placed on resources and this article provides insight on how to streamline workflow processes of fund distribution to ensuring that beneficiaries get support faster and organisations save vital funds.
IT and the Third Sector
Software solutions in the Third Sector are a dichotomy between raising funds and allocating the funds raised. Off-the-shelf software can be used to satisfy the fundraising requirements, which are common among many organisations. However, the software requirements for allocating the funds to beneficiaries are often complex and unique to the organisation. This demands a bespoke solution tailored to the specific requirements of the organisation.
Understanding the requirements
Distributing funds to worthy beneficiaries can be very complex so it is critical to have an intimate understanding of processes and requirements before making improvements. The sheer number of people involved in a ‘casework’ decision can create a major headache. Users often come from multiple organisations, each with different levels of authority and access rights. The complex and often unique nature of fund allocation usually means that an off-the-shelf solution won’t meet all of the requirements or deliver the value required. A bespoke solution that is ‘finely tuned’ to specific requirements of the organisation will ensure that the process is fully optimised to improve efficiency and increase productivity.
Due to the personal and financial information needed about an individual to create a compelling case for funding, confidentiality is a priority for casework and grant management and it is something which a paper-based method cannot consistently and reliably achieve. Web-based solutions enable virtual teams, often dispersed across the UK to work seamlessly on a single case. This is perfect for charities with a large network of volunteers and casework managers who might work from home or regularly travel between cases.
Getting help to those in need faster
The core aim of any charitable organisation is to get financial, emotional or respite support as quickly as possible to those who need it most. The need to streamline processes, improve efficiency and shorten resolution timescales should be a top priority for all charities and not-for-profit organisations.
However, this core practice is too often overlooked as organisations focus on attracting new donations and building donator relationships.
Paper-based methods simply cannot guarantee consistency or quality. Forms have to be completed by hand, photocopied and posted to various trusts for funding consideration. With the need to pass these forms around numerous organisations in order to obtain the level of funding required, the process could take several weeks of going back and forth before a resolution is reached – potentially leaving those in need without the additional support required to enjoy an improved quality of life. This simply isn’t good enough when your key purpose as an organisation is to provide help and support to people.
Usability is crucial to success
Managers, office workers and volunteers often have different levels of experience when it comes to IT literacy. Whatever system is introduced, it is critical that it is easy-to-use. The usability and accessibility of the system is crucial and should be taken seriously. To make sure the software is as easy-to-use and effective as possible, it is advisable to create a working group (made up of representatives of the charities, volunteers and employees) to work alongside the development team to define business requirements, design and test the application. This close involvement of representatives will ensure the end product meets the business requirements and is practical to operate.
Cultural challenges might be greater than you think
Don’t under-estimate the cultural challenges that may need to be overcome. A key priority should be to manage a cultural change amongst case workers and their member organisations in order to increase user uptake. Widening the user base and making general computer training a priority will help to ensure that the case-working process is as quick, efficient and cost effective as possible. It is important to highlight that the new software system application is not just an online form filling process, but a combined network of organisations and trustees that has the potential to make a big difference to lives in the community.
Single view of each case
Consistency is crucial for something as important as fund allocation. The need for clearer visibility over the status of a case is significant. A single view of each case offers a substantial reduction in the time taken to process individual cases. Other benefits of migrating to a web-based casework management process include: instant visibility for all organisations involved, easier workload management, case version control and a huge leap forward in terms of information security.
Moving away from a paper-based system also has its environmental benefits. The cost and environmental impacts of removing the heavy reliance on paper forms, photocopying and postage are substantial.