Public universities in America are supported by nonprofit foundations that raise money from alumni and other benefactors. One such foundation — who asked that their name be kept anonymous — engaged Traust to help develop a modernized, web-based gift processing application. The Foundation processes an average of 200-300 gifts every day, and as many as 1,000 gifts per day during the end-of-year rush. Over the last ten years, they have raised more than $1 billion for student support, more than $2 billion for faculty and research, and nearly $1.5 billion for other university initiatives and outreach. With that kind of volume, the gift processing system is an absolutely critical part of the Foundation’s operations.
The Foundation was using a severely outdated version of Oracle Forms to manage donor gifts, as well as pledges (called “expectancies”) offered by individuals or organizations. Gifts could include cash, equity (such as stocks), percentages of estates, matching gifts, and even non-money gifts, such as several horses donated to the university’s equestrian society. The system handles any schedules associated with these gifts, alerts and reminders for promised donations, and preferences of the names of individuals, donor organizations, and in memoriam.
End of Life
“Our mission-critical gift processing module [was] 20 years old and built on a platform that could no longer be sustained,” says the Foundation’s software development director. Due to the aging Oracle software, a small pool of development experts, shifting Foundation demands, and time constraints, the forms had reached the end of their life as a useful system.
Because of the antiquated software, access to the system was only possible with a deprecated version of the Mozilla Firefox browser, as it was the only one that could render the forms and use Java. This old browser posed a security risk that had to be mitigated by limiting access to only the giving system. Prior to COVID-19, end users also needed to be physically on campus to access the giving forms. (Once staff began working from home during the pandemic, end users could use a VPN to access the forms while off campus.)
In addition to usability issues, the Foundation’s IT staff could only access they system using a remote desktop environment with a virtual image from more than 10 years ago. Code within the system was rarely updated, because there was significant uncertainty about what how the system would be affected by any changes. Previous attempts to upgrade the Oracle forms had not gone well. As a result, by the time that Traust was brought in, there was a large backlog of change requests and bugs that had not been able to be addressed.
On the few occasions when changes were made to the system, it required a major effort due to the immense size and complexity of the forms. Simple changes that took only an hour in other systems could take 4 to 8 times as long in the giving system forms.