Accounting for Accountability
Nonprofit doesn't mean noncompetitive. In fact, some sectors of the nonprofit world are as competitive as any profit-driven business. As an example: international children's relief agencies. Search the Charity Navigator database of 5,000 public charities and no fewer than 87 international children's charities appear. Most are dwarfed by the Richmond, Va.-based Christian Children's Fund, with 2005 revenues of $191 million. And yet CCF's largest competitor, World Vision, based in Federal Way, Wash., is more than four times its size.
Such fierce competition in the nonprofit world seldom means deploying cutting-edge technology to gain advantage, however. The corollary is generally true: Keep administrative and overhead expenses low to demonstrate good stewardship and "accountability" in competing for donor dollars. There has always been pressure at nonprofits to keep overhead low, but recent corporate scandals have heightened the scrutiny on expenses, notes CCF's interactive communications manager, Bill Cavender.
"The current culture of accountability has really helped generate an assessment of how everybody does business," Cavender says. "Certainly when it comes to spending money that we're getting through the generosity of others, accountability has always been very important."
That's why CCF is only now getting around to developing a new intranet application to improve document sharing and collaboration among its 800 employees throughout its headquarters and international offices in 33 countries. The organization looked longingly at the Microsoft Sharepoint software three years ago, when it built its first generation intranet, but couldn't swallow the cost of the license.
Like many technology vendors, however (including Hewlett-Packard Co. and Cisco Systems Inc.), Microsoft Corp. does offer grants to nonprofits that include cash, technical support and software. Only after qualifying for a Microsoft grant that provided the software for free did CCF decide it could afford an upgrade. "We were looking to improve our existing intranet system, and having a six-figure piece of software given to us made it pretty appealing," Cavender says.