The 8 most important features for not-for-profit learning management systems

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So, you have realised that your charity needs to overcome common training hurdles and that your organisation could greatly benefit from an online learning portal. Now it’s time to find the right not-for-profit learning management system.

So let us consider the eight most important features for not-for-profit learning management systems (LMS).

Cloud-based platform with no IT deployment

This isn’t 2010. So you don’t want a platform that needs to be deployed into your location. Your online learning platform should be cloud-based, ensuring that your provider can manage security, provide updates, monitor performance, and ensure compatibility.

What this means is that you should be able to set up your online learning portal and access it through your browser without any required hardware or downloads. It should be a zero-effort implementation – which will make your IT team very happy.

Fully responsive and accessible platform

With a cloud-based platform accessible through any browser, you should have an online learning portal that can be accessed anywhere on any device. This means it should scale automatically to any screen size, have video streaming capabilities that adapt to bandwidth and device and not rely on any third-party downloads (some still use unsupported Adobe Flash!)

In addition, best practice suggests your online learning portal will support Web Accessibility Content Guidelines so that learning content is available for everyone. Ideally, this should be for WCAG 2.1 and to a level AA standard.

  • Most learning platforms do not support this standard, so be sure to ask the provider for their WCAG framework. This can be particularly important for NFPs with social responsibility values.

Ready-made training libraries

You won’t have time to create every little piece of training content you need (more on that below). So you will need access to some ready-made training libraries. This might be for compliance training, where it is better to use ready-made training content which has been lawyer-approved. However, it may also be for high-quality content on management, productivity, teamwork or communication skills.

Ideally, you want a library that is completely integrated with your learning portal. Many learning platforms do not have an integrated library. Instead, they utilise external third-party libraries. This can create huge inconsistencies in content – the interface can be different between each module, the tone and language can vary and so on. Look for a learning platform with its own training libraries.

Ready-made training in your branding

On that note, you ideally want your imported training content to appear in your branding. Employees and volunteers at not-for-profit organisations care passionately about their organisation and its brand. Reinforcing that brand in training can be very useful.

Unfortunately, most learning platforms cannot provide ready-made content in your branding. Imported modules will appear in the branding of the learning platform or the external company which created the training. Seek our learning platforms which incorporate built-in ‘rebranding’ of their training libraries, so that all training appears in your organisation’s branding.

Built-in training creation tools

This is a big one. In fact, of all the important features for not-for-profit learning management systems, this probably #1.

You will likely have significant training content of your own to share – processes, policies, induction, best practices, tips, documentation and more. It is critical your learning platform can do more than host ready-made training content. It simply MUST be able to create training content too.

This means genuine online learning – not just simple passive pages of text with images (basically a PDF document online). You need a platform that incorporates a built-in online training creation tool. If not, then you will be limited to the ready-made training content only. If you need to go to external training consultants to get your content customised, you need a big budget too – so that option typically doesn’t work for NFPs.

Test any potential online learning platform to see how easily it can create its training content, how guided the creation process is and how much help you will get from the platform provider in your training plans. Often, learning management systems provide no help on this issue – they exist purely to host training created elsewhere. This is one of the reasons why you may not need – or even want – a learning management system.

Consider this feature very carefully. If you can create customised, interactive and engaging online learning within your training portal, you can significantly improve its use (and the RoI of your training budget).

Automated training management features

The chances are that you don’t have a large training team at your not-for-profit organisation. So it’s essential your learning platform is designed for easy administration. You should not need to be a learning and development expert to manage training in your online portal.

Check how many functions can be automated in any potential online learning platform:

  • Can learners be enrolled in training via spreadsheet? By links? By managers?
  • Can learners self-enrol in training? Can self-enrollment be automated by role, team or location?
  • Can learners be enabled to create training for their teams or the organisation?
  • Are due dates, enrolment notifications, reminder notifications and certificate dates automated?
  • Are completion certificates and training histories automated?
  • Can training be bundled into learning pathways (with optional or mandatory content)?

Not-for-profit pricing (no upfronts, discounted on-going costs)

You should expect discounts. NFPs regularly receive discounted rates, and this should apply to your learning portal too. You should have any upfront costs waived – it should be entirely free to get started. You should also expect a discount on the standard subscription rates.

Your subscription should also be based on users, with unlimited storage, topics and bandwidth. The value for your organisation is to your users, so it’s best to have your costs aligned with usage.

Active user pricing model

Finally, your subscription should be based on active users. This means that your costs should be determined by how many users are actively using your portal, not merely stored in it. Many learning platforms use a traditional stored user pricing model. This means you pay for each user in your portal once they are created – even if they are not logging in very often.

Stored user pricing does not align your costs with your value. An active user model only charges for users who are ‘active’ within a period (usually a calendar month). This means you pay only for learners who are actively benefiting from your learning portal!

‘Active’ typically means logging into the portal, but be careful with this definition – some platforms count the creation or updating of a user as ‘active’ too (which isn’t that different from stored).

Genuine active user plans typically save 30-60% over stored user plans by eliminating wasted costs incurred by non-active users.


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