There has been some conversation on the CyberVPM discussion board recently about the key differences between web based and desktop run volunteer software. It has prompted me to throw in my two cents worth in.
Given that we provide web based volunteer software there is a bias of course, but it is a natural one. The reason we offer a web based solution instead of a desktop solution is because of our bias that this is a better way to go. We could have developed something of either type.
Like everything else in life, there are pros and cons to both types of systems: those that store data locally on a nonprofits computer and those that store the data on a supplier’s servers. When we began developing our software ten years ago, we looked very closely at these issues and for a while considered building software that had both options available. After careful consideration we recognized the world and the way we live were moving online and that this was the sole direction that would benefit the sector the most.
When I am speaking to groups on volunteer management software I often pose the following two questions and ask for a show of hands.
- How many of you bank online? (Most or all hands go up)
- How many of you who bank online would move to a bank that does not allow you to bank online. (Rarely does a hand go up.)
I have found it to be an effective analogy because:
- When we bank online we are doing the administrative work that used to be handled by the bank staff and when volunteers update their information or sign up for a shift online, they are doing the administrative record keeping that the volunteer manager would otherwise have to do.
- Our preference for banks that let us bank online suggest that even though we are doing the work that used to be done by the bank, we consider online banking a higher level of service. Volunteers have told us (through their managers of volunteers and through a feedback survey on the site) that they look at it in a similar way.
Reduced time on administrative record keeping for the manager of volunteers and a preference of most volunteers (and a growing number each year) to have a rich communications interaction where they volunteer are two solid pros for utilizing a web based system. Although it is true that a nonprofit could host its own web based solution, the total cost of ownership and the risk of data exposure though security loop holes suggest it is not the way to go.
All of this does not mean that you do not do all that you can minimize the potential challenges of storing data with your supplier.
- Make your own backups. Companies that provide data storage as part of their volunteer management software should include a mechanism that makes it easy for you to download volunteer profile anytime you’d like.
- Choose a company with a broad and solid reputation for trying to help the volunteer sector. No matter what you have in a contract, a team that is committed to the volunteer sector is not going keep you from your data, even in the worst case scenarios.