Nonprofit organizations aim to put as much of every dollar possible into their beneficiaries. Implementing Jira has enabled the Student Assistance Foundation to do better development work with less staff, making developers happy and, more importantly, saving operational costs to benefit students.

Ultimately, the fact that Jira allows SAF to work smarter means more Montana foster care youths get laptops and the supplies they need to pursue their dreams of higher education.


Based in Helena, Montana, Student Assistance Foundation is a nonprofit organization providing students with the knowledge and tools to pursue and fund their postsecondary education. SAF uses proceeds from its student loan servicing business to offer a range of programs that include grants, community outreach, counseling and training on education finance planning.

Development Process

I recently spoke with David Thompson from SAF’s development team. David gave some background about what they’re working on and how Atlassian tools have become central to their processes.

We have 65 different development projects that we handle through Jira and Fisheye, and then use Confluence as our wiki for all those products. We do everything from automated file transfer systems to developing our web-based student portal where students can make their student loan payments online. We manage all the code base for those products and track our development with Jira.

Jira has spread to the rest of the IT department for tracking issues, major system changes, and planning out releases. Outside of the IT department, we do have several groups within the company that are using Confluence.

The Switch to Jira

David started at SAF five years ago, and the company immediately started using Mantis because they weren’t using a bug tracker before. “After about two-and-a-half years, it became apparent that Mantis couldn’t handle what we were trying to do with it, so, we started looking for a better option.”

David first learned about Atlassian from a book about rapid application development that he was reading. “When we found out you give your products to nonprofits for free, the deal was sealed!

How did the Atlassian ecosystem and development community factor into your decision?

From past experience using Jira, we knew the product could handle 80 to 90 percent of what we needed it to do. Then, through searching documentation online, we found almost every answer we needed relatively quickly. The documentation and searchability related to this product is phenomenal. I don’t think I’ve ever submitted a request for help to install, or do anything from Atlassian because I can usually find the answer I need online.

Growing Together

As a non-profit, SAF aims to funnel as much money as possible into helping students. David shared how metrics and reporting from Jira has empowered the development team to improve their own processes and reduce operating costs.

Two of my installations are on 5.0.5 as of last weekend. The Share button in Jira 5.0 has saved us time notifying one another of relevant issues.

I have two production Jiras — one test and one development. One of the things I did was work with the Jira REST API with 5.0, and modified all the code to be able to submit issues via the REST API, to submit that code back to Atlassian. We’ve done some really exciting things with some of our automation of issues.

Throughout all of our development, we decided to use Jira not only as a means of bug tracking the applications, but to track any issues that may occur.  So, all of our automated processes have methods to report their errors back into Jira. We have at least five different systems putting 10,000 issues into Jira per year.

What we really like about this process is that we can now track those issues, see who’s working them, know when they get completed, and make sure that the problem was addressed. We used to track these issues by emailing two or three operations people. Often, nobody knew who was working on what issues. Now, with Jira, it’s easy. We have one operations employee that watches that project, and he assigns issues to the appropriate person each day.

How has that changed operations within the company?

In October, we finally set up all systems to automatically create Jira issues. Using Jira’s built-in reporting, we found that we were getting anywhere from 100 to 1,000 issues a day that were being ignored. By looking at the volume of similar issues, we were able to identify warnings that come up repeatedly. This allowed us to accurately report to management where our time was being spent. Just by showing management the graph, we were able to put a pause on new development to flatten the curve and minimize the amount of maintenance work required.

Rather than fixing each warning error, developers started fixing the code instead. Prior to using Jira, we didn’t realize we were doing more maintenance work than development. Within four months, we knocked error messages down from 100-1,000 per day to just 10-20 per day. What we learned is that fixing the core of the problem, rather than just the error messages, allowed us more time to dedicate to development.

Changing Lives

One of our internal goals is to work smarter, not harder. Jira has made a huge impact in working smarter because we fixed numerous issues that we didn’t realize existed. When it comes to the amount of savings that can be passed on, Student Assistance Foundation’s primary goal, as a nonprofit, is to take any money that the company makes to give back to the students. As a result, we take income generated through servicing loans to provide grants and other services to students, and borrower benefits like interest rate reductions.

Part of what Jira has done is allow us to work with a smaller staff. On a larger scale, these savings provide SAF with the opportunity to dedicate more funds to its public benefit programs. For example, SAF organizes a free, four-day camp each summer for Montana foster care youths who are heading to college. We give these students laptops, give them training in scholarship searches and career exploration, and help them get ready for postsecondary education. Ultimately, the fact that Jira allows SAF to work smarter means more Montana foster care youths get laptops and the supplies they need to pursue their dreams of higher education.

Get a Free Community License

Are you with a non-profit organization? Atlassian software is free for use by official not for profit organizations and charities. It’s our way of giving back to the community (and to hopefully improve the productivity of charitable organizations too). Get one here!

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Case Study: Why did SAFMT Go Jira?...