Nonprofit Results Software: Robust Tracking Power, Civil Liberties Concerns

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Software Review: Nonprofit Outcomer 3.0 for Windows, Basa Software (www.basasoftware.com)
PRO: Well-designed program with great functionality, a robust platform and powerful set of modules integrating the latest in longitudinal customer action tracking and enhanced database zoneability.
CON: Civil liberties groups have raised concerns about misuse of the optional modules.
PRICE: $4,995 installation, plus $1,995 per year (optional modules up to $17,995).

In an era when nonprofits are asked to do more, and to document their results, the new online version of Nonprofit Outcomer 3.0 comes along at the right time. The programmers at Basa Software finally got it right after listening to what community organizations need, and have created a system that meets the demands of both frontline staff with limited computer skills and sophisticated senior managers and their funders. Extensive testing with human services, job training organizations and private prisons has worked through the nasty virus problem contained in earlier versions to a “T,” and Nonprofit Outcomer now deserves an unqualified Best Buy.

Old-timers may remember Basa Software, which first hit it big with hobbyists with its Pet Rock Cataloger Pro™ and later cashed in (very briefly) with the Milli Vanilli Lyric Generator™. Some people are surprised that Basa Software would focus its hefty programming power on nonprofit organizations, but Basa founder Fab Pilatus explains: “The nonprofit market is hotter now than the New Kids on the Block were at their peak. We’re just here to help, plus we want to give back to the community.”
Like most online customer tracking software, Nonprofit Outcomer offers a rich menu of options, making it easy to find and report the information you want:

• Completely customizable outcome report generators, using the Outcomer Genie™ (you choose from 256 colors).
• Coding and retrieval by zip code, ethnicity, gender, age, social security number and VISA available balance, with no limit to the number of records or the amount or type of data on any one client.
• Online Client Monitor (OCM) uses Social Security Number links to update client files from public and proprietary databases on the Web, speeding the billing and collection process.
• Completely secure online record keeping, with Omega-666 firewall protection, backed up and saved on Quad-Secure servers at Basa Software.
• The Employee Performance Calculator can rapidly rate an employee for analytical thinking, number of clients, successful outcomes and loyalty to the firm.

Online access to Nonprofit Outcomer, including nights and weekends, gives savvy nonprofits an enormous leg up on their peers, with advantages in security, accessibility and collaborativity over paper-based filing systems or office-centric databases.
As with any important management decision, the choice of software and the implementation of an organization-wide information system have huge implications for the organization of work. Some level of staff resistance to achieving high impact performance and accountability is to be expected, and of course not all the features or modules have to be installed at once.

Two extra modules currently available are:

TANF-TRAKKER™ gives caseworkers the number of hours left until the client loses eligibility for food, shelter or medical benefits for their family, with automated outgoing courtesy reminder phone calls to clients every Monday morning. Programmable to either a male or female voice, in five languages, the reminder calls announce the TANF countdown days left and a rotating job tip, creating a practical and powerful new tool to “incent” recipients to make their all-important welfare to work transition.

JobDestinyQuotient™ uses a relational workforce calculator to pinpoint the optimal match between a client’s education, skills and ideal career goals with a comprehensive database of high demand, menial, low paying jobs.
“Our staff’s passion is for the work, not the paper work,” said Amy Jo Wunderlich, executive director of Hands Healing Hearts, Honolulu. “Nonprofit Outcomer frees up youth workers to spend more time in the community and less in front of a computer screen. Our funders also love it, so much so that they get more information online than we do! Our youth adjustment-compliance outcomes are up 55 percent!”

Max Weber, Jr., director of the Oskaloosa County Contract Office, likes the online interface and custom reports, but criticized the banner ads. “It’s reasonable to have clients do their own intakes and treatment plans, but there are too many pop-up ads, including inappropriate products for some of our clients,” he said. Weber declined to cite any specific product ads, referring further questions to Basa Software.
Modules slated for 2002 release include:

FAMILY-FUNCTIONER™ for outpatient programs, measuring parent-child concordance and generating menus, Ritalin prescriptions, activity lists and therapeutically indicated episodes of 24 popular television programs.
INSTANT-INS™ is an automated visa compliance coordinator and client load manager with a confidential back door linkage to regional Immigration and Naturalization Service domain servers.

HEALTHY-PART™ will track the execution of Chinese prisoners-of-conscience so health care nonprofits can order their organs.
Nonprofit Outcomer modules have received some pointed criticism, especially those that integrate with INS and police reporting systems. While it is understandable that organizations may have practical (or even ethical) objections to providing this information, the nature of their critique suggests opposition more appropriately addressed to broad trends in society rather than to the Nonprofit Outcomer program itself.

Tashika Zelsky, MIS Director of the Privacy Project says, “This is crazy! Do sensitive mental health or donor records belong online? What are clients being told about the storage and security of their information?”
A calmer critique of online customer tracking software is made by Neil Postman, author of Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (Knopf, 1992). Postman argues that technology can be a friend but mostly is a “dangerous enemy” that “intrudes” into a culture “changing everything,” while destroying “the vital sources of our humanity.” To Postman and his like, technology is a difficult enemy with which to negotiate since it “does not invite a close examination of its own consequences” and even “eliminates alternatives to itself.”

Clearly, Postman makes progress sound gloomy, but he does make you think about where things are heading. However, many modern nonprofit managers would gladly do away with musty paper files, cumbersome billing processes and client privacy to become more competitive for funding.
The entire Nonprofit Outcomer service averages $13,000 per year (discounted for organizations with budgets under $5 million), and many local funding programs have agreed to help underwrite the cost for member agencies and share online access to the outcome and individual data.

Phil Anthrop is a consultant to foundations in G-8 countries.

Consumers should be wary of software reviews (including this one). While this particular product is spurious, the underlying issues are not. The intersection of technology and outcome measurement creates tempting visions of timesaving and increased sales and accountability—sometimes accompanied by serious unintended consequences for the unwary. Nonprofits would be wise to learn from the unhappy evolution of managed care: due diligence and rational systems in pursuit of efficiency (backed up with robust software!) overwhelmed the human touch, creating a system unsatisfactory to patients, providers and payers alike. People expect nonprofits to be personal and responsive—boards and managers need to be vigilant against system improvements that undermine their community connection, especially when capacity building is being underwritten by a funder.