6 Tips for Building and Running a Successful Software Donation Program

Sep 6, 2016 2:00 PM ET

6 Tips for Building and Running a Successful Software Donation Program

Many cloud technology companies recognize that their products or services offer nonprofits and social enterprises the opportunity to run more efficiently and improve access to the data and insights needed to make better decisions. In a survey cited by npEngage, 64 percent of CFOs said that adopting cloud technology would cut operational costs by up to 20 percent. In another survey by NTEN, 100 percent of survey respondents indicate that they use at least two cloud services at their organization.

As we see how technology can change the way nonprofits operate, we also recognize that today’s nonprofits and social enterprises have limited budgets and staff resources to allocate toward new products and services, especially with funders and donors demanding that their donations go directly toward supporting programs.

Created in 2007 by NetSuite’s co-founder and CTO Evan Goldberg, NetSuite’s SuiteDonation program offers free and discounted licensing to qualified nonprofits and social enterprises. Since the initial launch, we have grown to now serve more than 700 organizations globally. Here’s a look at what we’ve learned:  

Lesson 1: Developing A Strong Staffing Plan
While it may seem like a software donation program could run itself, we’ve found that having staff dedicated to the program has enabled us to authentically grow and serve our nonprofit partners more effectively. And when it came to building out our team, we looked for people who had experience working in the nonprofit sector, as they are often better able to understand the needs of our partners and ask the right questions. 

Here are a few of the areas, you’ll want to consider staffing or setting up to run a program:

  • Account Executive: someone dedicated to sharing how your grant program can benefit nonprofits, and responsible for helping a nonprofit navigate how technology can drive more efficient operations and whether your technology offering is right for their current challenge and capacity. 
  • Grants Administrator: someone to process grant applications when they are received, including assessing eligibility (we’ll talk more about eligibility below). 
  • Account Manager: someone who manages grant accounts, ensuring that the onboarding process is smooth and grantees are utilizing the donation effectively. This person also handles renewals. 
  • Partner Network: while some organizations may be able to use your solution right out of the box, many organizations simply don’t have the bandwidth or resources to self-implement. For these organizations, a partner network of consultants who understand your product and the unique challenges of nonprofits is key to help with implementation. We have an array of partners that can either execute basic implementations or more complex ones.
  • Grantee Success Specialist: this role is dedicated to the success of the organizations who are receiving a software donation. In our case, our grantee success specialist is in charge of developing training and learning materials that support our grantees to better utilize their donation to meet their organizational challenges. Our ultimate success is when organizations are able to gain more transparency and insights into their organization’s financials so they can divert more resources to focus on their mission, rather than on managing technical complexity.

Since it may not make sense for you to build out a team right away, organizations like TechSoup, a NetSuite.org Partner, can do a lot of the heavy lifting regarding grants administration and renewals. 

Lesson 2: Establishing Your Giving Cycle
When setting up your software donation program, you’ll want to decide whether to establish application periods or accept applications on a rolling basis. The benefit of setting up application periods is that set-up, onboarding and renewals can be done at the same time; whereas accepting applications on a rolling basis allows you the flexibility to donate software anytime throughout the year.

For the NetSuite software donation program, we opted to accept applications on a rolling basis since we have the system and processes in place to handle the volume. 

Lesson 3: Setting Your Pricing Strategy 
You may be wondering why we’re even talking about setting pricing in a conversation about a software donation program. When we say “setting pricing” we’re actually talking about figuring out what your base donation will include – from the number of licenses to the type of support offered. By figuring out your base donation, it allows you to figure out how much extra features will cost and what types of discounts you would like to offer. 

When it came to setting our pricing for the NetSuite donation, we looked at what a small to medium-sized nonprofit (our ideal grantee) would need to be successful with our software and built our donation around that. Realizing that some organizations would need more bells and whistles to meet their unique organizational needs, we then went on to determine the pricing for added features and customizations.    

Lesson 4: Determining The Right Eligibility
While many companies limit their software donation to nonprofits, we decided at NetSuite.org to offer our donation to both charitable organizations (501(c)(3)s and social enterprises globally. Once an organization has applied for a software donation, we look at two things: 1. Can the organization articulate and measure its social impact, and 2. Does the organization have the capacity to implement a technology like NetSuite and use it to accelerate its mission. 

For help with eligibility, many companies look to partners like TechSoup  who handle the vetting process for them. Other companies who choose to support social enterprises look to organizations like B Lab and their B Corporation certification to assess eligibility. 

Lesson 5: Onboarding Should Not Be An After Thought
After you’ve determined that a nonprofit is eligible to receive a software donation you’ll be wondering what’s next. While it might be tempting to feel the job is done, this is just the beginning. Idealware, a nonprofit dedicated to helping nonprofits make smart technology decisions, says that implementation is one of the main areas where technology projects fail. Here are a few of the ways we recommend supporting your grantees once they start receiving a donation:

  • Welcome session: At Netsuite.org, we welcome all of our new grantees in an interactive session to ensure they know how to get started on the software, where to find self-implementation documentation, and who to contact for support. They get a dedicated Social Impact Account Manager that will be their main point of contact throughout their license.
  • Create a community of support: While your program staff can provide a lot of guidance to your grantees, it is important that your grantees have the opportunity to connect and learn from one another. Within our program, we launched “Social Impact Accelerated”, an in-person event in Manila that brings together our community of grantees to network and share challenges and solutions. 
  • Self-implementation documentation: ensure you have a self-starter pack for your grantees to start implementing your technology. Within the NetSuite.org program, we created an online resource that provides organizations with quick how-tos and answers to frequently asked questions. We continually build this out to align with new features and new business challenges presented by our grantees.

Lesson 6: Ensuring Organizations Can Use the Software Effectively
What many companies don’t realize is that a software donation alone is not a magic bullet to help organizations solve their problems and run more efficiently. Without the resources to implement and truly leverage the technology, organizations are likely to use only basic functionality, or stop using it all together. And since you put so much time and effort into getting your program off-the-ground and getting the technology into the hands of your nonprofit partners, you don’t want this to happen. 

Recognizing that nonprofits and social enterprises need both the technology and the training to use it, we have three key programs at NetSuite to complement our software donation:

  • SuiteVolunteers Pro Bono Volunteer Program: The program, matches the technical needs of the charities and social enterprises receiving our software donation with the professional skills of our employees. Each quarter, organizations can apply for one or more projects and the NetSuite.org team matches them with employees who can help fulfill their project(s). Employees receive up to 20 hours per quarter to work on a pro bono project on behalf of one of our grantees. For companies with a commitment to supporting the social sector through product donations, a pro bono volunteer program similar to our SuiteVolunteers Pro Bono program is a win for the organizations who you’re committed to serving and the employees who volunteer.
  • NetSuite.org Nonprofit Financials Accelerator: a seven-week online course developed to help organizations who have chosen to self-implement to get up-and-running on NetSuite faster. 
  • Maturity Capacity Assessment model: our tool to measure our grantee's ability to implement our technology and use it effectively. This is also the base to assess the progress in the capacity and likelihood of success of the grantee during its one-year license.

I’m excited to see the growth in the number of companies who are deciding to offer their technology and services to charitable organizations for free or at a discount. I’m even more excited to envision what’s possible when businesses commit to nonprofits and social enterprises beyond just free technology, incorporating capacity building in their program’s strategic goals

About NetSuite.org
NetSuite.org, the corporate citizenship arm of NetSuite, leverages the company's assets—our people and our products—to accelerate the social impact of nonprofits and social enterprises around the world. Through our unique initiatives, including software donations, pro bono SuiteVolunteer projects and training, we are supporting organizations worldwide to better achieve their missions through the efficient use of NetSuite technologies. 

For more information on our programs, visit: http://www.netsuite.org/