Technology industry non-profits register with Web 2.0

When Mira Jelic decided to organize a technology gathering called UsabilityCamp this fall, the idea turned out to be more successful than she had dared hope. Based mainly on mentions in a few blogs, the number of people signing up for the Nov. 14 gathering at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel quickly reached the capacity of the space.

“We had kind of a crisis because suddenly we had this great idea,” says Jelic, who came up with the UsabilityCamp idea after attending a similar “self-organizing” technology conference called DemoCamp. “I had less than four weeks to put this event together.” 

What Jelic urgently needed was an efficient way for would-be participants to register – or as space ran out, join the waiting list – online. A basic Web page had already been set up, but online registrations were trickier. “I can edit a Web page,” says Jelic, “but I didn’t have access to programmers to do all that sort of stuff.”

Jelic found the answer in Wild Apricot, a software-as-a-service offering from Toronto-based Bonasource Inc. that is designed specifically for non-profit organizations such as professional associations, charities and community groups.

Six-year-old Bonasource launched Wild Apricot in July and already more than 700 groups are using it, says Dmitry Buterin, chief executive of Bonasource. It gives non-profits the tools to create Web sites, maintain membership lists and collect dues, manage online registration for events, collect donations and send out mass mailings. 

Organizations with fewer than 50 names on their mailing lists can use an advertising-supported version of Wild Apricot free of charge, says Buterin. Monthly subscriptions range from $12 to $200 per month depending on the organization’s size 

Buterin says his company, which has focused on custom development work for most of its existence, wanted to create a software product and was looking around for a good opportunity. Having done a few custom projects for non-profit organizations, he realized that such groups need simple, easy-to-use tools because they usually lack in-house technology expertise and time.

He also thought the software-as-a service model would be a good fit because it would let employees and volunteers use the tools from home or office and would spare the often volunteer-staffed organizations the work of installing and upgrading software packages. 

Bonasource started planning Wild Apricot in February and released the first version at the beginning of July. The company has just released the 10th version of the system – another advantage of the software as a service model, Buterin notes, is the ease of upgrading. 

The Association of Internet Marketing and Sales (AIMS), a 10-year-old professional association, became one of the first customers for Wild Apricot in August.

Kathryn Lagden joined AIMS as general manager in March. “When I came in,” she says, “I realized there was a problem with our Web site.” The site, custom-developed a few years ago, wasn’t being kept up and there were significant bugs. “People couldn’t register for our events reliably,” Lagden says.

Lagden considered various options, including fixing the existing site and purchasing an off-the-shelf package. She settled on Wild Apricot because it combined low cost with the ability to do everything AIMS needed – most off-the-shelf options lacked a way to maintain a membership list, and creating that separately could have cost a couple of thousand dollars, she says.

AIMS uses Wild Apricot to maintain its Web site, register participants for the 10 to 12 events it holds each year, maintain its membership list and send out electronic mailings, Lagden says. The only piece of the system AIMS doesn’t use is the online donation facility, since the group doesn’t rely on donations. 

Buterin says groups that use Wild Apricot include community sports organizations, animal shelters, charities and various sorts of associations. Many of them are in Canada, since the company is based in Toronto, but there are also a significant number in the U.S., and Bonasource has customers in other countries such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and Mexico.

Responding to demand from some of those users, the company has recently given Wild Apricot the ability to handle about a dozen different currencies. So far it only operates in English, though – Buterin says Bonasource will probably start developing local-language versions late in 2007.



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