October 6, 2015

Searching for the “Nonprofit Operating System”

You know that feeling of being organized and always caught up? At your peak energy for tackling the day? That’s what we at Airway Science for Kids, Inc. were looking for when evaluating options for having a centralized place to track what matters most to our organization, both within and without. We call it a “Nonprofit Operation System (Nonprofit OS)” and run it on FMYI [for my innovation]—after all, our laptops and phones have operating systems, so why can’t our nonprofit?

We set out to answer three key questions.

1. What challenges are we trying to solve regarding tracking our day-to-day operations in our Nonprofit OS?

We needed to find a way to track the outcomes and goals of our organization in a centralized manner without having to collect large amounts of paper, maintain several spreadsheets, or re-enter the same demographics for different outcomes.

Since we have staff who are “mobile”—meaning they don’t always come to the main office—we needed a tool for us to share as well as to collect information with all our staff. Using email wasn’t working as efficiently as we wanted, since not everyone—including part-time staff and volunteers—had an Airway Science account. People also don’t always check their emails. Finally, depending on the amount of email an individual gets, there’s a risk of emails and attachments getting “lost” in the shuffle.

We needed a system in which all necessary backup information and forms could be centrally located and easily accessible; and we needed a system that we could also communicate and share information with our board and volunteers.

2. How do we best set up our Nonprofit OS to align with our mission?

Our Nonprofit OS site is set up to track a variety of information for us:

  • Program-specific documents to track progress towards outcomes/goals
    • Student demographics
    • Rosters for classes
    • Attendance for classes
    • Length of time in programs
    • Pre/Post surveys
  • Organizational documents
    • Timesheets
    • Access to necessary forms that need to be completed for the organization (employee handbook, background check form, etc)
  • Updates, program and organizational documents, deadlines, and information for staff, as well as a mechanism for staff to communicate with administration, ask questions, share updates, etc.
  • Upcoming meetings and events for volunteers and board members

This system is truly set up as a two-way interactive tool between staff, administration, and volunteers.

3. What is the benefit of having a Nonprofit OS?

The benefits have been tremendous, and we’ve communicated the business case for it to our board.

We have been able to “do more with less,” meaning that because we have a limited (small) staff that is highly mobile, we are able to provide timely information and documents without necessarily having to have a staff person housed at a physical location to collect or distribute information. Having a centralized system means that we are able to provide required documents and information to staff and volunteers in a timely manner while allowing admin the flexibility to be out in the community—meeting with partners, creating relationships, and instructing youth at our various sites in the Portland Metro area. Also, part-time staff who are site-based understand that FMYI is the tool to access the information that they require to complete their roles in the community while at the same time understanding the expectation for them to share and submit necessary data in a timely manner with the central office.

Our data is centralized for staff to access and view. Our platform admin is able to control what areas are viewable and who has access to the various areas of our system. We are able to track trends ongoing and in real time, allowing transparency of data to those with access to the systems, allowing opportunity for input, questions, and comments. We are also able to track submission of data, projects, and tasks and are able to track which ones have not been completed or submitted.

Our Nonprofit OS serves as a communication tool to keep all of us connected, regardless of where they are and what their role in the organization is.

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Jackie Murphy
Jackie Murphy has worked in nonprofit, youth serving organizations for over 18 years. She currently serves as the Executive Director for Airway Science for Kids, Inc. providing STEM programs in N/NE Portland and Hillsboro communities.