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A Look at the Benefits of Open Platforms: The Driver of Nonprofit Technology Growth


To many nonprofits, the open platform initiative is just the latest craze whose overall implications are not yet fully understood. An open platform enables software developers to add features and functionality to a software vendor's product by means of an external programming interface. The external programming interface, also known as Application Programming Interface (API), is published by the software provider and describes the software system, thereby enabling developers to integrate various applications that add more functionality and new features.

As more and more developers integrate with the open platform, the number of solutions available increases exponentially. Nonprofit organizations can reap the benefits. Open platforms create more choice for nonprofits, and the more choices organizations have, the more likely they are to find solutions that best meet their unique needs.

If the power to choose isn't enough to illustrate the value of open platforms, here are some more benefits:

  1. Ability to integrate multiple systems
    In addition to adding features and functionality to software, open platforms enable the integration of various systems to provide more robust and more easily accessible information.

    Let's say, for example, that an organization has decided to implement text messaging into its donor relations campaign. They select a vendor and begin to send text message updates to relevant constituents. They are able to get reports and pull information on the effectiveness of the campaign from the selected Short Message Service (SMS) provider.

    If the organization is like most nonprofits, it also has a constituent relationship management (CRM) system that has information about the on-line and off-line behavior of donors and constituents.

    Ideally, the nonprofit would like to combine the data from the SMS provider into its CRM solution to get a full, comprehensive understanding of its constituents. If the CRM provider has an open platform, the solution is simple. The CRM provider's network of partners may already have developed an integration between the two applications. If an integration hasn't been developed yet, there are usually plenty of developers ready and willing to create one.

  2. Creation of better solutions
    The foundation provided by open platforms gives access to more people who can add, improve, and expand on the platforms. As the community of developers begins to collaborate, exchange ideas, and build specific solutions, the better the solutions become. Open platforms give nonprofits a team of motivated developers working for them to create solutions more quickly that better meet their needs.

  3. Cost-effectiveness
    Many nonprofit organizations have multiple vendors for multiple systems and often must pay for expensive custom integration. Open platforms provide a cost-effective approach to custom application development and data integration. Chances are that if one nonprofit is using a particular system, another organization is using it, too. And if one nonprofit needs an integration, chances are that another can use it, too. An open platform establishes a forum to make these applications readily available to help nonprofits save time, run more efficiently, and focus more on raising money and less on technology.
An open platform is only as good as its network of partners, however. Without partners developing integrations and adding functionality and features, an open platform sits idle and is of little value.

The goal of an open platform is to help nonprofits reach supporters in new and unique ways, including the use of rapidly growing Web 2.0 sites. In order to do this effectively, nonprofits need to unite constituent information from multiple applications into a single, interactive donor management solution. The right open platform should enable organizations to integrate their donor management solution with their call center applications, e-commerce solution, mobile solutions, Web site management system, and their data and analytics solution. Integrations across these various solutions provide nonprofits with the comprehensive information needed to serve their constituents and missions best.

Backed by a network of partners working to create a catalogue of solutions, nonprofit organizations will not only understand but also reap the benefits of open platforms.

Jeane Chen, Ph.D., Kintera
© 2007, Kintera®, Inc.

Jeane Chen is executive vice president of engineering for Kintera®, Inc. Kintera provides software as a service to help organizations quickly and easily reach more people, raise more money, and run more efficiently. The technology platform features a social constituent relationship management (CRM) system, enabling donor management, e-mail and communications, Web sites, events, advocacy programs, wealth screening, and accounting. In addition, the company also has an open applications integration platform that enables clients and partners to integrate with the Kintera technology platform.
Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice