Free essential software guide for nonprofits: Essential back office tools

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Nonprofits have many administrative needs that can consume their valuable time. From meeting regulatory compliance needs to recording their finances, from keeping track of development opportunities to managing and coordinating the people that help bring their mission to life. Getting organized at managing daily operations efficiently can have a dramatic impact on increasing the amount of time a nonprofit has to spend on their mission.

There is a large class of “Management Software” including Financial Management, Human Resource Management, Customer Relationship Management and many more available to help make day to day operations more efficient. These tools used to be the domain of large enterprises with big budgets. Today many of these tools are available to organizations of all sizes in variety of pricing models, and, yes, you get full featured products for your nonprofit for free.

This is the final part of the three-part series on free essential software for nonprofits. In part one we covered free essential productivity tools; in part two, we discussed free essential marketing tools for nonprofits. To help get your nonprofit more organized at managing their administrative tasks, in this final chapter we will present free essential back office tools.

Key administrative duties for an organization are made up of: sound financial record keeping to produce timely, accurate, and compliant reporting; efficient and courteous management of the the people that help the organization reach their goals; and facilitating communication between the team. This article will share the top free tools for accounting, payment processing, membership management, volunteer scheduling, and internal communication. Each tool is considered a leader in their space, are feature rich, has a big ecosystem of existing users, and can be used completely for free.

Accounting Software - Wave

Accounting software is used to record and process your financial transactions. These tools capture your general ledger, journals, accounts payable and receivable, payroll and other financial records.

Wave is a free online accounting software that helps you track your income and expenses. It also provides you with the ability to invoice your clients for free. It is an online product and doesn’t require any installation or setup. You simply sign up for an account (no credit card info needed) and get started with using it to track your finances.

Key considerations:

  • Tracking income, expenses and sending professional invoices are completely free
  • It’s a great solution especially for smaller nonprofits
  • Connect to your bank to import transactional data and reduce manual data entry
  • Free receipt scanning app to import your expenses
  • Automatically generate income statements, balance sheets, and other financial reports
  • There is no inventory tracking functionality that some nonprofits might need
  • To receive payments for invoices there is a reasonable processing fee
  • It can also be used to process payroll which is another paid feature

To sign up for a free account head over to wave.

Payment - PayPal

Operating a nonprofit requires capital, and a lot of payments are captured electronically. Payment processing technology is used to accept online payments. There are a number of providers available in this category, but one of the biggest pioneers of the field is still the leading provider of this technology.

PayPal is a payment processing technology that allows you to collect money online, whether it’s for selling merchandise, services, membership fees, or to simply to collect donations. For nonprofits Paypal offers an out of the box donation button that you can add to your website very quickly.

Key considerations:

  • One of the largest payment processing providers
  • Many end users are familiar with PayPal and have used it in the past
  • Quickly add a Donation button to your website
  • Free to setup and reasonable processing fees per transaction
  • Limited ability to customize their standard offering without deeper technical skills

You can get started by adding a PayPal donation button to your website.

Membership Management - memberPlanet

Keeping track and managing the people that support a nonprofit can become very time consuming. Keeping membership lists up to date, launching and tracking donations, and processing and following up on membership dues, can create a lot of manual work. Membership management software helps make these processes more efficient and less time consuming, freeing up more time to focus on your nonprofit's mission.

memberPlanet is a free online membership management tool that allows your nonprofit to keep track of your members, automate payment of membership fees, run donation campaigns, and on-board and grow your membership base. All major memberPlant’s features can be used for free with no upfront costs.

Key considerations:

  • Free all-in-one solution for managing unlimited members with unlimited admins
  • Rich feature set including: membership list, fundraising, events, and communication
  • Membership hub to facilitate interaction between members online
  • Create a simple website for members with limited drag and drop customizations
  • The free version has higher than average transaction free for payment functionality
  • Low limit on the number of emails for the free tier
  • Can upgrade to higher tiers which are fairly priced or purchase affordable add-ons

Start connecting and organizing your membership base with memberPlanet for free.

Volunteer Scheduling - signup.com

Coordinating volunteers is critical for having successful operations. Defining roles, scheduling shifts, and sending reminders can quickly become unmanageable. Luckily there are free and easy to use tools available to help with coordinating volunteer activities.

Signup.com is a free tool that allows a nonprofits to create events, plan required shifts, and allow volunteers to sign up for the spots that they are available for. The tool will automatically send reminders to the volunteer for their upcoming shift.

Key considerations:

  • Free easy to use sign-up tool
  • Quickly create an event and allow volunteers to sign up for shifts or swap shifts
  • Sends automatic reminders for upcoming shifts to volunteers
  • Free plan is limited to one group and you can add only one custom question
  • It’s a simple tool without any bells and whistles
  • Can be upgraded to increase some of the limits of the free tier

Build a free and quick online volunteer signup sheet with signup.com.

Internal Communication - Slack

Allowing team members in a nonprofit to easily communicate with each other and to share information can have a big impact on the productivity of that organization. More importantly it helps strengthen the social bonds of an organization. Internal communication tools have evolved dramatically over the years with every wave of new technology. Email has been the de facto digital communication tool, but that is changing with the advent of modern collaboration tools.

Slack is a leading collaboration tool used by many large and small organizations around the world. At its core, it is a real time messaging application that allows individuals or teams to connect with each other. They can create chat channels specific to projects or groups, share documents, and the tool integrates with many of the other popular digital tools. They can collaborate from any device from anywhere and search the entire chat history for important information. Slack is completely free to use for unlimited users and they also have Slack for nonprofits which provides free access to their premium tier for up to 250 users.

Key considerations:

  • Slack is easy to use and widely adopted by organizations of all types and sizes
  • It is feature rich and considered the leader for team messaging apps
  • Team members can chat, create channels, share documents
  • Has a large ecosystem of integrations with other software tools
  • The paid version can be quite pricey
  • The advanced features can have a steep learning curve

Upgrade your team’s collaboration with slack.

Back office tools and software are essential to a nonprofit’s of daily operations. Keeping accurate financial records, collecting payments, managing the membership base, coordinating volunteer schedules, and sharing information can be labour intensive and time consuming. Back office software allows nonprofit organizations to streamline and automate a lot of these tasks freeing up valuable time to focus on their mission.

All the tools in this article and the ones covered in part 1 and part 2 of this series are available to nonprofits for free. When used to their full potential, they can help nonprofits get closer to delivering their full vision. I hope you found this essential software guide for nonprofit series helpful and were able to take advantage of some of these great tools at your organization.

Kasra Zokaei is the Founder and Executive Director of CIMHS, a nonprofit that provides a free online therapy program for depression called Bliss. The program teaches skills and strategies for overcoming depression. He has extensive knowledge about technology and has over a decade of experience in the high tech sector. @cimhs mission is to provide free therapy for everyone! You can find Kasra on twitter @kasra_z and on LinkedIn.

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