By Todd Cohen
Microsoft has set its sights on nonprofit customers.
“There’s a huge market out there,” says Adam Hecktman, managing consultant for the Microsoft Technology Center in Chicago.
To tap that market, the Redmond, Wash., software-maker has teamed up with Chicago-based B2P, which develops tech-driven business products and services for nonprofits, and markets them through “channel” partners such as banks with nonprofit customers, and state associations with nonprofit members.
B2P will customize Microsoft’s small business tools for use by nonprofits, Hecktman says.
B2P, for example, is developing a “nonprofit dashboard” based on Microsoft’s Digital Dashboard technology that lets users integrate key business functions and data on a customized computer screen.
B2P also is creating a set of document templates, designed for nonprofits, that will be based on Microsoft’s Template Gallery for small businesses, and on standard forms for nonprofits. Using the templates, available for free on a Web-based Nonprofit Business Center that B2P markets to its business partners, nonprofits can write a business or marketing plan, or prepare administrative documents such as timekeeping charts.
Possible future projects with Microsoft include integrating data and functions involving fundraising, accounting, donor management and program benchmarking, along with desktop functions such as email and information-sharing “so that all of the productivity tools that a nonprofit needs to use can be unified and integrated,” says Jason Saul, B2P’s CEO and founder.
B2P also plans similar collaborative projects for other nonprofit business functions – working with big banks to customize financial services, with tech companies to customize financial management software, with e-commerce firms to customize software to build Web sites and with Internet companies to customize connectivity and communications tools such as Web sites and messaging.
B2P grew out of Saul’s experience with the Center for What Works, a Chicago nonprofit he founded in 1994 to help nonprofits do a better job of “benchmarking,” or systematically assessing and improving their operations.
Yet while nonprofits can figure out how to operate more effectively, he says, they typically lack technology that could make it easier to put improvements into practice.
“Everyone is caught up with evaluation,” he says. “But then what? Once you’ve evaluated and benchmarked, now how do you improve?”
So Saul created B2P, believing a business could make a market and develop digital products more quickly than could a nonprofit.
B2P’s strategy hinges on treating nonprofits as a market, not simply as charities, he says.
“We see them as businesses with a cause,” he says.
Yet giving and volunteering – the heart of the nonprofit sector – generally are viewed as operating outside the traditional forces of supply and demand in the U.S. economy, Saul says.
“The economy deploys resources to meet what corporations view as legitimate demand,” he says. “There is a huge market out there that’s waiting to be served.”