The who, what, where, when and why of API.
What are we talking about?
The term API gets thrown around in technology discussions, but many individuals on the business side may not understand what this term means and why it is important when evaluating technology solutions with different vendors. An API can make the difference between signing up for a solution that provides lots of flexibility in integrating with other systems, or one that requires expensive development to accomplish simple communication between one software solution and another.
API stands for Application Programming Interface and is a way for different software systems to interact with each other in a way that is clearly defined and documented. Many of the CRM and other software solutions available to nonprofits provide APIs and some of these solutions do not. There is also a broad range of quality and depth in available APIs, as each one is specific to the solution in question.
Who is doing this extremely well?
An example of a platform that provides a robust API for peer-to-peer event fundraising is Convio TeamRaiser. They offer a couple different API options (REST and SOAP). These allow a variety of integrations to be built around their system. As a result many vendors provide pre-built and custom solutions to help extend the functionality of the platform, a prime example being the Boundless Fundraising suite we offer at Charity Dynamics. Using the API, our products can securely exchange information about the participants, events and other necessary details to provide a robust desktop and mobile fundraising solution not available within the platform itself.
Why does it matter?
In the process for selecting software solutions for an organization, APIs should be included as an option to evaluate. Without easy, standardized ways to communicate with other systems through APIs, a solution can become expensive to adapt as the needs of the organization shift. Even worse, without that pipeline of information available to integrate elsewhere, the system can become isolated and ultimately lose value and adoption. Nonprofits need to make every dollar they invest truly count, so clearly API is very important to consider.
Where should I start on execution?
If evaluating systems, include a check for APIs on your list and get an understanding of what the API will give you access to. Some only allow a small portion of the information to be integrated with while others while others will open up a broader set of data allowing deeper and more robust integrations to take place.
How can I learn more?
Read Write has some great additional information or you can always search for information on the specific API that you are interested in. And, always feel free to reach out to your IT team (or individual)!