Apr 30 2019

Microsoft Solutions Help Nonprofits Optimize Key Assets

Azure and the newest version of Dynamics 365 Nonprofit Accelerator improve visibility, reporting and resource management.

Nonprofit organizations and their IT leaders face numerous challenges, from getting board members to invest in new technologies to protecting donor data and hiring freelance IT help.

The good news is that many technology vendors provide free or low-cost tools to nonprofits so that they can more effectively pursue their missions. 

Microsoft is one of those partners, and earlier this month it released an updated version of its Dynamics 365 Nonprofit Accelerator solution, which is “designed to drive deeper programmatic engagement and help nonprofits achieve greater impact,” according to a blog post from Erik Arnold, global CTO of Tech for Social Impact at Microsoft Philanthropies. 

In November, Microsoft released the first version of the Nonprofit Accelerator, including a standards-based common data model for nonprofits as well as sample applications, templates, dashboards and data connectors created for nonprofits. 

The update is the latest element of a wide-ranging program that Microsoft has undertaken in recent years to use its tech prowess to help nonprofits, as Geekwire reports

“It’s not just about discounting our catalog, it’s about deeply innovating and putting real muscle behind that so that we’re building tools that matter,” Justin Spelhaug, Microsoft’s general manager for Tech for Social Impact, tells GeekWire about the new update.

MORE FROM BIZTECH: See how one nonprofit uses smart wristbands to help homeless people.

Microsoft’s Updated Tools Will Give Nonprofits Greater Capabilities

One key element of the Dynamics 365 Nonprofit Accelerator is the Microsoft Common Data Model (CDM) for Nonprofits, which the company has shared publicly on GitHub. “The model standardizes data in alignment with international guidelines, making data sharing easier,” Geekwire reports.

Version 2 of the accelerator doubles the size of the CDM, according to Arnold. “Last year, we delivered 35 different entities with about 700 attributes,” he says. “With v.2, we’ve grown the model to 75 entities with 1,400 attributes. These entities and attributes represent sector-specific data elements, relationships and best practices as defined by Microsoft, our partners and a group of nonprofit experts.”

The CDM also uses the International Aid Transparency Initiative organization and activity standards, which Microsoft has made available via GitHub

“Not all nonprofits subscribe to IATI, but for many organizations working with institutional donors or government agencies, it’s a requirement,” Arnold says. “Recognizing this, we made the IATI modeling available as an add-on so organizations have the freedom to choose whether to add it to their solutions.”

With v.2, nonprofits can “draw a thread across their operations and tie funds from donations and awards directly to programmatic activities and outcomes by leveraging a new link between Fundraising Designations and Program Delivery Frameworks and Budgets,” says Microsoft’s Arnold.

Nonprofits can also track the outcomes and impact of their program delivery with specific beneficiaries through a new link between Delivery Framework, Indicator Value and Constituent in Dynamics 365.

Additionally, nonprofits will get enhanced functionality to optimize volunteer management, capturing preferences, skills, certifications, availability, scheduling and projects leveraging Dynamics 365 Project Service Automation. 

Nonprofits can use the solution to set up membership programs and engage members throughout their membership lifecycle “through a single contact record that can be used across multiple roles, including support for membership and benefit levels,” Arnold says.

Microsoft has also “expanded the platform’s how-to guides and released new purpose-built nonprofit data schemas, templates and sample applications that are optimized for interoperability,” Arnold says.

Nonprofit experts say they are glad that Microsoft is throwing resources at the sector. 

“The complexity of the problems that nonprofits are dealing with, the lengths of crisis, are growing at a rate far greater than we can deal with,” Lauren Woodman, CEO of NetHope, a Virginia-based consortium of 57 global nonprofits, tells Geekwire.

“You’re going to have to use technology to figure out how you scale solutions and reach more people and empower communities all around the world,” she says.

MORE FROM BIZTECH: See how nonprofits are using artificial intelligence for a variety of tasks.

Nonprofit Deploys Disaster Recovery Aid with Microsoft Azure Support

Microsoft also helps organizations develop custom solutions that facilitate the management and deployment of complex resources.

Consider Team Rubicon, a disaster response and recovery organization that works with more than 80,000 volunteers, 70 percent of whom are veterans and active-duty military personnel. Team Rubicon mobilizes individuals around the world based on critical skill sets, such as emergency medicine, logistics and heavy equipment operation. 

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Team Rubicon sent more than 1,680 volunteers to South Texas. After that event, the organization realized it needed a better way to manage this valuable resource, including the volunteer activities, costs and outcomes of each deployment. 

Team Rubicon turned to Microsoft Azure and supporting solutions (Active Directory, Dynamics 365 Business Central, Teams and Office 365) to craft a custom, cloud-based platform that provides valuable insights

As described in a case study from Microsoft, the solution allowed Team Rubicon “to create a seamless experience so that staff can spot and eliminate inefficiencies and keep better track of volunteers’ unique skills and experience to unlock that potential and apply it where and when it’s needed most.”

That solution is just one aspect of Team Rubicon’s partnership with Microsoft, whose philanthropic arm is providing $1.8 million worth of technology, training and services to the organization.

AlenaPaulus/Getty Images

Learn from Your Peers

What can you glean about security from other IT pros? Check out new CDW research and insight from our experts.