Imagine you’re on a first date with a website / CRM development agency. If that date is going well, you are being wooed by their commitment to design and exquisite navigation sense.
That’s all good, but what’s behind the roses? How is the agency going to guarantee the security of your system? Where do you go with your questions after your new system goes live? Do they offer long-term support? Do you need to find a new hosting provider? If so, what services are most important?
These are some of the most critical questions that, because of their complexity, are often left off the table. Your organization’s investment in your technology environment is most impactful and worthwhile when you also have a plan for long-term security, maintenance, and support.
Think of your technology environment like a gingerbread house; no matter how beautifully the house is decorated, if the dough is too soft or the walls aren’t properly aligned, the whole thing can come crashing down. In order for your system to operate smoothly and securely, your software must be well-maintained and supported. Let’s look at what that means.
Nowadays the vast majority of websites are built using a Content Management System (CMS). The most popular are WordPress and Drupal. Within each CMS, there can be a variety of Modules (in Drupal speak) and Plugins (in WordPress speak) that provide additional features and functions on your site.
In addition to a CMS, a growing percentage of organizations also have a Constituent Relationship Manager (CRM) such as CiviCRM or Salesforce. According to the 2018 Global NGO Technology Report, 45 percent of NGOs use a CRM software to track donations and manage communications with donors and supporters. Of that, 64 percent use a cloud-based CRM software.
Your organization’s CMS and CRM may be one integrated system, with information entered through your website automatically updating your contacts’ information and donor history. Or, they could be separate, with your team completing more manual maintenance and entry to keep the two up-to-date.
Your CMS and CRM may be open source software (OSS). This means that the code base is not owned by any one company. Examples of commonly used open source software are Drupal, CiviCRM, and WordPress. OSS is created and maintained by a worldwide community of developers. As an aside, two benefits of OSS are that the collaboration breeds innovation and this helps keep the technology cutting edge.
Your team most likely also uses a variety of other softwares, such as Office 365, Google Apps, an online meeting tool, and more. These are known as Software as a Service (SaaS). A third-party SaaS provider makes their software available to you for free or through a monthly charge over the internet. As updates or new features become available, the software is automatically updated based on your subscription agreement.
Just as you call plumbers, electricians, and roofers to maintain your house, your technology environment also requires regular support and maintenance. You should think about this as an investment, rather than an expense.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of what makes up your technology environment, let’s go through the details of what keeps it running.
First off, what does a hosting provider do? The short (and accurate) answer is “it depends on the host.” Your website and CRM must live somewhere—in this case in the trusted arms of a hosting provider. Each agency that provides hosting as either their core service or one of many offerings will do things a little differently. Here are some critical questions for you to ask and consider when looking for support:
- Do they offer an uptime guarantee? This means the agency guarantees that your system will not experience significant downtimes. And, if the system does go down, they have the means and infrastructure to resolve it quickly.
- Are they taking regular, ideally daily, backups of your data in the event that your information needs to be restored?
- Will they perform regular security reviews and updates in your system?
- Is hosting provided on a shared, virtual private server (VPS) or dedicated environment? Shared means that it sits on the same server as other websites. This makes it the cheapest option, but with significant trade-offs related to bandwidth, performance, and often administrative support. VPS and dedicated hosting means your system occupies its own space on the server. This offers the best security, which is critical for CRM systems.
- Is hosting managed or unmanaged? You’ll pay less for unmanaged, but you also will get much less. “Managed” means the provider may offer migration assistance, backup and recovery support if your system were to crash, regular monitoring, and security maintenance.
- Will they offer migration assistance? To no surprise, your technology infrastructure is made up of a ton of very technical details. The more assistance and support your provider offers means the less you and your team have to figure out on your own.
- Are you responsible for maintaining your SSL certificate? SSL (secure sockets layer) is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between your web server and a browser.
All this technical stuff and the investment you make determines the viability of your system. As technology evolves and threats to security change, it is critical that you partner with an agency that is proactively watching out for your best interests.
Why Your Nonprofit Needs an SLA
An SLA is a “Service Level Agreement.” The core purpose of an SLA is to ensure that your technology environment experiences as little downtime as possible. Most everything else that an agency includes in their SLA revolves around that goal.
By signing up for an SLA, you may also get access to other invaluable resources, such as regular technical assistance, training, reduced fees for new project work, and more.
Investing in an SLA is a no-brainer if organizations think about their technology environments just like they do their physical offices. You have at least one lock on your door and most likely several locking file cabinets behind that door. You don’t just give the keys to anyone. If there’s a break-in, it’s a big deal!
Treat your technology environment the same. You’ve worked hard to grow your donor base and community of supporters. They trust you with their contact information and more. Your website and online communications will continue to be your most powerful tool for inspiring philanthropy and engaging others in your mission. Investing in the long-term security and support of your technology environment is critical to your organization’s success.
If we’ve piqued your interest, let us know. We’d love to schedule a second date.