Streamlining Non-Profit Operations Using Custom Software

Case Study: Comprehensive Energy Non-Profit Management Portal

Service: Custom Software Development, Custom Database Development

Industry: Energy

Company TypeNonprofit

Challenge:

A non-profit organization that provides discount heating oil and renewable energy to consumers was frustrated with their current database. The company has been working with a development company to build a custom online database application in PHP, Angular JS, and SQL Server as a tool for their customer service team, as well as a membership and financial reporting tool. Slow progress on development, as well as a variety of bugs in the application, drove staff to search for a new company to help them bring the application to completion.

Approach:

Code Exploration:
Aciron began the project with an initial code exploration phase to determine the best strategy for continued development. After performing a high-level review of the application’s front-end and source code, our consultants discovered that the code was not well structured or commented, and that fixing bugs would likely cause additional issues elsewhere in the application. For this reason, Aciron recommended a full re-write of the application as the most efficient and scalable solution.

Another benefit of the application re-write would be to provide the opportunity to optimize the language of the application. Since the system had a SQL Server database, we recommended using a .NET framework for development, instead of PHP, to stay in the same native Microsoft technology stack for maximum efficiency.

Key Insight: Native technology stacks make for a more efficient, scalable app.

In-Depth Requirements Gathering:
After establishing the re-write strategy with the client, Aciron worked with the non-profit to understand their vision for the full application: a streamlined portal that would combine all of the client’s non-profit management needs into one integrated application. Through in-depth requirements gathering interviews and consulting sessions with the client’s key stakeholders, Aciron worked with the client to prioritize their needs and document the requirements for each module of the application.

Phased Development and Testing:
Once Aciron had a good understanding of the business and technical requirements for the application, we began development of the highest priority module. By taking a phased approach and breaking down development into smaller builds, the client was able to begin using the new features and functionality as soon as possible.

Key Insight: Break up development into phases so users can derive value from the software more quickly.

For each build, the Aciron team continued to collaborate with the client on defining functionality and translating those business needs into a fully-functional, bug-free application. The client was also able to provide feedback throughout the process by performing User Acceptance Testing (“UAT”). UAT gave the client’s end users an opportunity to test-drive the system and identify any desired tweaks before rolling out the application to all users.

Solution:

Aciron developed a comprehensive energy non-profit management portal that combines all of the tools that the organization needs for customer service, membership management, and financial reporting.

Key functionality of the application includes:

  • Membership Management: Staff can view and approve member applications for their renewable energy and heating oil programs. Users can also search for members, merge duplicate accounts, manage the status of members’ accounts, and track communications with members.
  • Payment and Donation Management: Staff members can track members’ previous payments and donations, as well as record new dues payments and donations.
  • Extranet: Prospective members can apply for membership in the non-profit’s programs or make donations to renewable energy funds. Current members have access to a members-only site where they can update their information, check oil prices, contact the organization, and make donations.
  • Dealer Price Calculations: Staff can input daily wholesale prices, calculate averages, input survey data, and export reports on heating oil prices.
  • Reports: Users can generate detailed reports on membership, donations, and financial data.

The client is extremely satisfied with the re-write of their old application and its expansion into a comprehensive portal, and continues to work with Aciron to add new functionality. Staff members are able to more easily manage membership data and provide improved customer service. The extranet module of the application provides members with a more user-friendly way to apply for programs and connect with the organization. Thanks to the robust reporting module, the organization also has increased insight into their data, which allows them to improve their program offerings.

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