Transforming non-profits with cloud and iPads

Want examples of businesses being transformed by the cloud? Look no further than the non-for-profit sector, where fundraising and management practices are undergoing massive changes.
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

In my blog post yesterday, I asked for examples of enterprises transforming the way they do business. Quick as a flash, FinancialForce.com came back with a TalkBack comment recommending the story of its customer Life Champions, which it has announced in a press release today.

Life Champions is a perfect illustration of the point I was making yesterday: the cloud is transforming business operations and opportunities for those organizations that are prepared to look beyond their fears of the unknown and explore what might be possible with these new tools.

One of the motivators for adopting FinancialForce.com at Life Champions is to take advantage of new mobile technology — in this case the iPad — to open up new sales opportunities. The organization helps not-for-profit voluntary groups and charities collect and manage funds, and its main offering is a membership package tied to a pre-paid payment card that earns an affinity commission every time it is used. One of the iPad's strengths is as a sales tool in one-to-one meetings. Life Champions plans to issue iPads to part-time sales agents so they can present its services to potential customers and subcribers in the familiar surroundings of their homes or workplaces. This cloud-enabled remix of the 'Avon lady' model will come calling with web-based videos and demonstrations delivered on the iPad. When the sale is closed, agents will be able to process credit card orders and update or create customer records on the spot using the device, and it will all be instantly updated to the central FinancialForce.com accounting system.

A small, growing business like Life Champions would not be able to contemplate a real-time, mobile-enabled infrastructure like this on its own resources without a massive investment of resources and finance. Using a cloud platform gives it the flexibility to grab the potential of a new platform like the iPad and just give it a go. That's a great illustration of the transformative power of the cloud.

There's a bigger story here, though, about a three-year-old company that already has a quarter of a million "causes" on its books in its home market in the UK — a cause can be anything from a national charity to a local neighbourhood football team — and which is currently embarking on a significant expansion beyond those numbers as it ramps up its US operations. Life Champions is very nearly "a completely native cloud organization," its CEO Simon Stimpson told me today — ditching Sage for FinancialForce.com takes it one step closer to junking its last remaining on-premise server. Using cloud applications like FinancialForce.com allows it to scale up as it grows without worrying about capacity limits or functional constraints, he said.

On top of that, there's the transformation that cloud-based services like Life Champions is making to the not-for-profit sector. It's delivering capabilities to small fundraising groups that were simply not practical or affordable before the Web came along. For larger charities, it's providing the infrastructure to take advantage of a range of useful operations, such as affinity card membership benefits, Facebook groups and volunteer spend management — and it can bring them live in less than six weeks, compared to timescales of nine months or more using conventional solutions.

If an industry as traditional and conservative as the not-for-profit sector can achieve transformation on this scale, imagine what it ought to be doing in your own industry. In fact, I would venture to suggest that, if you don't yet know how your industry is going to be transformed by the cloud, then beware: someone else is preparing to eat your lunch.

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