After some attempts to explain what my work is all about, I have come to the conclusion that the description “Charity Resource Planning” might fit best.

Previous attempts were “Administration Software”, but then people think about administration of computers, etc. And I have not read about anyone calling any software “Administration software”.

Other people call it “Back Office Software”.
Wikipedia describes Back office in these words:

“A back office is a part of most corporations where tasks dedicated to running the company itself take place. The term comes from the building layout of early companies where the front office would contain the sales and other customer-facing staff and the back office would be those manufacturing or developing the products or involved in administration but without being seen by customers. Although the operations of a back office are usually not given a lot of consideration, they are a major contributor to a business.”

But does a charity have a front office and a back office? It is usually quite a small team of dedicated people. I remember once a funny bookkeeper in one of our smallest offices, telling me he would ask the system administrator to do something for him… it took me a few seconds to realise he was speaking of himself in the third person…

To some degree, the work of a charity, helping people in need, empower the people without rights, telling the Good News, could be called the “front office”.
But even in normal companies and enterprises, no one calls their software “Back Office Software”. You want it all integrated. The salesman in the front office needs to know the addresses of the customer, etc.
This is where the term “Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)” comes to mind.
Again the definition from Wikipedia: Enterprise Resource Planning

“Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is a term usually used in conjunction with ERP software or an ERP system which is intended to manage all the information and functions of a business or company from shared data stores.
It is a commercial software package that promotes seamless integration of all the information flowing through a company.
[…]
[The term ERP] was introduced by research and analysis firm Gartner in 1990. ERP systems now attempt to cover all core functions of an enterprise, regardless of the organization’s business or charter. These systems can now be found in non-manufacturing businesses, non-profit organizations and governments.”

For a while I thought about using the term ERP for the things I do. But then it sounded strange. Can you run a charity like an enterprise? On the one hand, many concepts can be brought over from the enterprise experience, and a charity can benefit from the lessons learned in business. Some charities even are run as an enterprise, and their goal is to grow and move more and more money. They pay salaries etc.
But I am not talking about those huge well-known charities that you see on TV ads. My background are mission organisations. They and many other charities work mostly on a low profile. They live from dedicated workers who are willing to work for a small salary or even raise their own support, and such organisations could not exist without their dedicated supporters that not only back the work financially but also with prayer.
There are quite a number of Open Source ERP systems around. The question is how hard it would be to modify them by adding modules to turn these software packages into “Charity Resource Planning” tools.
There is a good example of Medical, which is an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) and Hospital Information System, and it is based on OpenERP, an Open Source Enterprise Management solution.
So it would work to adjust an ERP system to work for charities. I wish there were such initiatives to use the benefit of Open Source for charities in this area.
The question will be how close the ERP system will match the processes of a charity. How far can you modify the software, and how much do you have to change your own processes?
Therefore my goal is to make a real “Charity Resource Planning (CRP)” software.
  • CRP software has to be easy to use, since charities often have much higher staff turnover than normal businesses, due to short term commitments etc
  • CRP software should center on managing relations with supporters and workers and the people involved in the projects in a way that is right and honourable.
  • CRP software should provide tools for most of the office tasks, eg. Personnel department, Donor contact management, Financial Planning, Accounting
  • CRP software has to be available in all sorts of languages and support many currencies, so that it can be used across a multi-national organisation, in such a diversity of countries that companies of the size of a usual charity normally would never work in because they don’t have the manpower.
  • Such a CRP software has to allow easy integration with other software, eg. Payroll which is probably too difficult to adapt to the laws of each country. It should also provide many plugin interfaces that allow localisation of the tools, eg. for processing bank statements etc.
  • CRP software has be available at justifiable costs, considering the personal effort of supporters and workers to keep the charity going.
There is already a small number of software systems around that fit well into the category of “Charity Resource Planning”. And I think there is certainly a need for more developers and IT specialists working in this area, both voluntarily and to earn their living. I think it would benefit many charities if we use Open Source software for this in order to be able to share solutions even if we are using different technology or emphasize different management/organisational styles.
My personal aim is to make OpenPetra.org one of the first choices in Charity Resource Planning systems.

Disclosure
Timotheus Pokorra is currently working as a software developer for OM, a christian charity working in many countries. OM owns the OpenPetra.org project which aims to provide a free software solution for the administration of charities.