What is an API and Why Should Your Nonprofit Care

by | Apr 27, 2016

Taking off from last month’s article about Takeaways from AUDC  2016, I wanted to provide some information about API (Application Programming Interface) and why it should be important to you.

What is an API?

API is the Internet technology that allows integrating applications regardless of where they physically reside. This could be on a local server or in the cloud. You can google API and come up with a plethora of information and get buried in the weeds very quickly. Here is one example I thought was pretty understandable.

A breakdown of APIs and nonprofits

As discussed in the Takeaways article, one of the key expectations of software users is to integrate applications. For example, the accounting manager expects transaction data from donations or from an outside payroll system to flow seamlessly into the accounting system without manual intervention.  All major accounting software vendors, Abila included, have or are developing APIs for this purpose. Once the API is in place, other developers can write programs that directly and actively interact with the accounting application through the latter’s API, resulting in the two applications figuratively talking to each other.

Until relatively recently, integration of data has relied primarily on export from one system and import into another system. Often, this requires some manual intervention. A project that we participated in about a year ago was to integrate billing and payment data originating from a membership application with the MIP Accounts Receivable module. Because the Abila API did not yet include the functionality for AR, we had to use the export/import method as an interim solution.

While working with the consultants who have technical expertise with the membership application, we were able to design an integration that depended on three exports. These exports included customer additions and changes, invoices, and cash receipts. In turn, we wrote three MIP import definitions to bring the data into MIP as customer file changes, and invoice and payment unposted journals.

In contrast, when the Abila MIP API includes the AR functionality, the data can flow automatically. When a new customer or member record is created or changed in the originating system, the customer file will be updated. This will leave the same audit trail as if entered manually or imported. When invoices or payments are recorded in the membership system, MIP will be updated with entries into an unposted journal.

API’s evolution

As this API technology advances, it will become a standard tool. Abila is building its API in relation to developing MIP Advance™. Presently, the API includes the following:

  • Security
  • Chart of accounts
  • Journal vouchers
  • Budget transactions
  • AP invoice entry

Though tied in its development to MIP Advance, the API is available for the standard MIP version. It can be hosted on-premises, in the Abila Private Cloud or by a third-party. For more information, including technical specification about the Abila API for MIP, click here.


Best regards,
Lee Bengston, CPA