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Are Native or Integrated Technology Tools Better for Your Nonprofit?

Is there a difference? And which is best, and when? We'll break it all down for you.

Are Native or Integrated Technology Tools Better for Your Nonprofit?

If you’re a nonprofit looking for new software, you’re likely overwhelmed by the options. There are so many questions to ask and decisions to make.

Today, let’s zero in on one of those….the nature of the tools offered by a CRM.

There are two different ways you can look at the technology your nonprofit uses or needs. There are all-in-one nonprofit CRMs that have native tools, and then there are nonprofit CRMs that integrate with a lot of third-party systems to provide functionality.

The Difference Between Native and Integrated Tools

It might help to dive into what we mean when we talk about these tools.

Native technology tools are built into the system or platform. For example, when talking about a nonprofit CRM, email automation can be built into a platform, so that you can log in to your CRM, pull up a WYSIWYG editor, input your email or series of emails, and select your segmented list of recipients, and the email(s) automatically go out.

Integrated tools are third-party systems that can be tied into, or integrated with, many different platforms. In our email example, a nonprofit might have a CRM but use Mailchimp. This third-party tool can be integrated with any system but isn’t native to one platform.

Benefits of Integrated Tech Tools

There are some benefits to choosing a system that offers flexibility through integrated tools or building a tech stack through integrations.

Some benefits include:

  • You have flexibility when building a tech stack—you can add any functionality you want to your core platform.
  • Integrations can bridge the gap between different technologies, allowing different systems to work together.
  • Ideally, data automatically syncs between integrated systems, meaning it should all be at your fingertips.

Benefits of Native Tech Tools

CharityEngine offers a nonprofit CRM with native tools, so we think this is the best idea for nonprofits…but with a twist!

  • When your fundraising tools are built within one system, all the data is there and updated in real time. There’s no syncing back and forth, which introduces vulnerabilities and the potential for incomplete data.
  • A robust set of updated data means you can pull custom reports in real time, with any parameters you want to set. There’s no question of whether or not your event platform can leverage data from your email platform; it’s all right there and you can pull any data you need.
  • When you have tech tools built into a CRM, you are optimizing the performance of the CRM. The platform is built to work seamlessly and pull data from all sources, giving you a powerful performance.

A Tale of Software Development

Let’s step back for a moment and tell our own story.

Years ago, nonprofit technology was an a la carte menu. You’d pick a database and put it in the cart. Then you’d choose an email provider, maybe event software. You might need a direct mail piece, so you’d add that to the cart. And when you went to check out, you’d have a bunch of systems that weren’t necessarily meant to work together.

But it’s all you had, so you took all your new platforms and called a smart IT guy (or girl) and asked them to make all the systems work together.

Sometimes they did.

Sometimes they didn’t.

Then a nonprofit that had really big fundraising goals was trying to glue all these systems together, and they were frustrated. The data didn’t always sync correctly. The functionality had holes. They wouldn’t be able to reach any lofty goals with all these systems stuck together.

One guy who was in the room at the time (okay, our guy) was frustrated by the insanity that was disparate nonprofit technology. He tossed it all to the side and built a system with all those core tools – all that core functionality – and all that data in one place.

And he called it CharityEngine.

What if They’re Both Okay?

You might assume we’re on the native-tool team. And you’d be right. We see tremendous value in native tools fundraisers need. We see the value in all your data being in one place, always in real time. We love the fact that no matter how a donor interacts with your nonprofit, it’s in the CRM, and it’s ready for your custom reports and analytics.

But as we mentioned, there’s a twist.

What if you’re a nonprofit that has specific necessary third-party systems? Do we believe in putting up a gate and blithely assuming one system with native tools fits every nonprofit?

Nope. So if you want an all-in-one nonprofit CRM with native tools, make sure that same nonprofit CRM has open and robust public APIs. Because then you can have a comprehensive core system and also build the tech stack your nonprofit needs to grow.

The annoyingly vague answer to the question, then, is that some nonprofits need both. And if your nonprofit chooses a CRM that gets its functionality entirely from integrations, that might work well for you.

If you can now identify which type of tools you use, our job here is done. We may prefer the native tools, but we’d prefer that every nonprofit is successful with the technology they use. And if you have questions or want to continue the conversation, you know where to find us.