Whether you’re providing shelter for the homeless, mentoring at-risk youth, or anything in between, nonprofit service organizations like yours do incredibly important work to enrich their clients’ lives. And while managing behind-the-scenes operations is vital, doing so inefficiently can take away from your ability to ultimately improve your community.
Luckily, today’s expansive digital landscape means there are technology solutions designed to improve almost every aspect of our lives, and nonprofit case management is no exception. Now more than ever, it’s essential that you and your organization utilize specialized case management software to streamline those backend processes that are so vital to your mission’s success.
Depending on the solution you choose, it can empower you to safely collect intake forms, connect people to the right services, manage appointment scheduling, process service referrals, and even report back on programmatic impact. Choosing the right solution for your teams can put hours back into your staff’s day, allowing you to reinvest that time into serving your community.
Whatever your reason is for investing in case management software, it can be challenging to know where to start. This guide will give you a rundown of must-know information and best practices for selecting a solution to meet your organization and community’s needs. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- 5 Key Nonprofit Case Management Software Features
- The Process of Adopting the Right Case Management Solution
By evaluating and choosing a robust platform upfront, you’ll be better prepared to manage individual cases and serve clients in more efficient and meaningful ways down the road. Ready to learn the power of a strong case management solution? Let’s dive in!
5 Key Nonprofit Case Management Software Features
There’s an array of case management software solutions available, making it challenging to determine which ones offer the functionality you need. Instead of immediately looking at specific solutions, you’ll be better equipped in your search if you first understand what features case management solutions offer and how they can directly help your and your staff.
As you explore different features, keep in mind that some may be more important to you than others, so spend time ranking the features your team needs the most. In turn, you’ll be able to select a system that meets your most crucial needs for the best value.
Let’s take a look at five key tools that most organizations look for in a nonprofit case management software solution.
1. Custom Online Forms
As a case manager or social worker, you understand that successful case management entails extensive data collection. Online forms make it much easier to collect demographics, patient histories, test results, and other information that’s crucial to your services — regardless if you need qualitative or quantitative data (or both!). Plus, sending online forms can also increase participants’ comfort levels since they don’t have to speak to a case manager or program officer directly to disclose sensitive information.
Moreover, customizable online forms will allow you to design data collection methods around your specific needs as opposed to conforming to preset forms within your case management system. From intake forms to surveys that gauge clients’ experiences, you’ll be able to collect the exact information you need and avoid the kinds you don’t.
2. Customized Alerts and Workflows
As more people turn to your organization for assistance, managing your workload will naturally become more challenging. Customized alerts and workflow features will ensure no client is overlooked and that your programs stay on track.
Automated notifications will enable you to alert the appropriate team member to take the right action at the right time. You’ll be able to eliminate the need to manually track progress and instead can automatically alert staff members about milestones such as:
- Overdue items
- At-risk clients
That way, you can provide the best service possible to each individual who relies on your team. Not to mention, automated processes will allow you to free up your staff’s time from administration tasks.
3. Self-Serve Capabilities
Your clients are the primary focus of your mission, so prioritize their experience with self-serve capabilities. Enabling participants to take charge of their experiences will give you insight into their needs and the broader communities’ needs.
Here are a few tools that should have self-serve capabilities:
- Client intake. Make it easy for participants to apply for the services they need by submitting everything online.
- Appointment scheduling. In addition to applying, participants should also be able to request virtual and in-person services and appointments that match their availability.
- Reminders and communication. Easily communicate with participants, notify them of any schedule changes with direct messages, and allow them to take action to keep things progressing.
- Online portal for participants. Give participants insight into their care with a portal that they can log into to update key information, view case progress, and request services.
By leveraging case management software with self-serve capabilities, you can ensure you’re providing the exact care your clients need and help them feel welcomed by your organization.
4. Referral Management
Social Solutions’ guide to social work case management explains that during intake, you may find that an individual’s needs fall outside of your organization’s programs or that multiple services are necessary on their path to success. Collaboration between different public sector entities allows for timely and effective service delivery to individuals and families who interact with multiple organizations during their journey. That’s why it’s crucial to look for a solution that offers referral capabilities if you’re a community-based organization.
Referral management will allow your teams to connect people with the comprehensive care they need to improve the quality of their lives.
5. Cloud-Based Access
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed our typical workspaces, and now we live in a remote access world. Organizations everywhere have felt the effects and necessities of remote nonprofit management — both positive and negative. For service organizations, in particular, social workers and case managers need to be able to access client records from anywhere at any time with online access. Ensuring your case management software offers remote, cloud-based access means the following:
- Case managers and social workers can access client information and submit new notes when they’re out in the field.
- During and after appointments, staff can update client records to make sure everything is accurate.
- You can prevent service interruptions when a case manager is unable to make it into the office.
As you already know, your clients' needs won’t halt just because your staff isn’t in the office, so make sure the solution you choose is equipped to handle remote access.
The Process of Adopting the Right Case Management Solution
Once you’ve identified your priority features, it’s time to evaluate solutions. As you dive into the process of selecting and adopting a new system, be sure to put a plan in place to make the buying and transitioning processes as seamless as possible. Let’s explore three easy steps to follow to do just that.
1. Find a specialized platform tailored to your organization’s needs.
Every organization has a unique set of needs and therefore requires a different platform. For example, most nonprofits want to manage their work electronically, improve programs, and boost team efficiency with optimized workflows. However, how they accomplish those goals varies.
First and foremost, search for a solution that’s tailored to your industry. For example, software designed for homelessness prevention organizations will come equipped with a different set of specialized features from youth services software. These might include access to a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) or industry-specific reporting tool to ensure you’re gathering the right data to share with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These tools wouldn’t be as beneficial to other organizations with different missions.
If your organization offers multiple types of services, look for a solution that allows you to handle everything within one platform. That way, you won’t have to employ numerous systems to manage your programs. Ultimately, so long as your platform has a customizable infrastructure and is tailored to meet your organization’s specific requirements, you should be able to adjust it to meet your needs.
2. Get buy-in from your staff.
Buying a new nonprofit case management system is a big investment, and it can alter the trajectory of your organization (most likely for the better). But if you don’t get buy-in from key individuals first, you might be met with a lot of resistance when it comes time to adopt the new system.
As you present the new solution to your team, earn staff support by doing the following:
- Be prepared to explain why you want to adopt a new system. People will naturally be resistant to change if they don’t understand why that change needs to occur. Will your new software quicken intake? Will it improve internal workflow and result in better services for participants?
- Be transparent about what they should expect. Keeping staff informed on how the new system will impact their daily workflow and how you’ll get them up and running is an excellent way to instill confidence in your decision. There will be a learning curve, but the ultimate goal is to streamline their tasks and make their work more impactful.
Securing buy-in from staff early on will result in a much smoother process once it’s time to get up and running with the new case management software. By presenting the benefits and being clear about potential forthcoming challenges and hurdles, you’ll be able to manage expectations and make sure people are on board with your decision.
3. Train your team.
Training your team will ensure you’re getting the most out of your technology. After all, these will be the individuals who are expected to use your new case management software on a daily basis. So, as part of your internal training, you might want to:
- Teach different department leaders how to use the software. Your software provider will likely provide training materials to help you navigate the transition. However, you’ll be in a much better position if you have team members who know how to navigate the system and can then conduct training for other team members. This process will also help with any possible troubleshooting down the line.
- Create a one-pager that answers potential questions. Try to think ahead of any questions your staff members might have. You could even have department leads provide insight into what their teams might find helpful. Doing this will answer any immediate questions and clarify that you’re doing your best to make the transition positive for your staff.
- Monitor usage as you get up and running. See where each team is in the process of adopting the software. If they haven’t transitioned over, double-check to see if they need more training or if the functionality actually meets their needs.
Remember that the best providers will constantly improve and enhance their technology. Be sure you are on top of those updates to fully leverage your system’s usability. Even once everyone has learned how to use the software, pay attention to product updates and educate your team as necessary.
Then, to make sure your technology continues to serve your needs, DNL OmniMedia recommends conducting a nonprofit technology assessment every so often. Doing so will help you determine “whether your nonprofit’s use of technology is lagging (behind the times), adapting (caught up, but not innovative), or maturing (ahead of the curve).” In addition, it’ll allow your team to communicate any inefficiencies related to the technology and make sure you see the benefits you were expecting.
Overall, adopting a new nonprofit case management system is a big project. Skimping on sufficient training will be counterproductive and costly, so be prepared to help your staff manage and respect the transition. Then, provide ongoing support to make sure the technology stays beneficial.
Adopting specialized nonprofit case management software is the key to accelerating change and growing your impact. Intuitive technology can streamline your workflow and amplify your programs, making it much easier to provide people with the services they need in a timely manner.
By automating tasks and moving your work to the digital sphere, you’ll be able to reallocate staff time and fundraising dollars to improve your communities and connect people with the services they need.
Understanding which features you need means you’ll be able to successfully choose the best platform for your team. This forethought into the technology adoption process will help you manage the transition without too many hiccups, and your staff and your community will certainly take notice!
Janet is a Community Development Executive at Social Solutions with over 20 years of experience in human services. Prior, Janet was an executive director of both a nonprofit and government agency. She has diversified and deepened funding as a development director and overseen coalitions and client services at various organizations.
Janet’s commitment to developing an evidence base for health and human services professionals led her to organize research published in national professional journals. Janet holds a bachelor’s degree in special education and history education, a master’s degree in counseling, a license in professional counseling and a certificate of advanced graduate studies in (nonprofit executive) business.