Software can help make your nonprofit more efficient and free up staff time. With so many options on the market, being confident in your decision can feel challenging. However, there are some questions you can ask to increase the chance you’ll choose the right software for your nonprofit organization. Janna Finch of Software Advice, a company that hosts online reviews of nonprofit software, shares her insights on the importance of assessing your nonprofit’s software needs. Here are her top three questions to ask when selecting software.
What problem am I trying to solve?
“It would be disappointing to go through all the work of purchasing and implementing a product, only to find out after a month that it doesn’t support an activity that is very important—like creating custom, or branded thank-you emails,” advises Finch. “I recommend creating a list of ‘must-have’ and ‘like-to-have’ features/functionality. Be as specific as possible. For example, if you need software that supports recurring donations and lets you to define donation amounts on donation forms, write it down.”
Who will be using this software, and what is their comfort level with tech?
“Overly complex products can hinder user adoption. If staff are not tech savvy, look for software with a simple interface and great customer training and support. Intuitive software also makes staff transitions easier—when staff or volunteers leave and others come on board, the data is easy to find because it’s in one place and new staff can ramp up more quickly when the software enforces a logical workflow.”
What integrations are needed?
“You should speak with whoever manages your technology to figure out what tech solutions can be supported—you wouldn’t want to purchase a software that’s not compatible with your current setup! In terms of popular integrations, in a recent survey we found that 57 percent of buyers requested a donor management system that integrates with an accounting program, and there was a 133 percent increase in requests for email marketing integration. Integrating applications helps you automate processes so you can focus on tasks that need human brainpower.”
Tips for Software Selection
- Create a shortlist of 3-5 products by doing some preliminary research (Google is invaluable for these searches)
- Talk to peers and other organizations to see what they use
- Read product reviews to find out about user challenges and benefits
- If you’re short on time, you can pay a consultant to help, or contact a company like Software Advice who will listen to your requirements and help you create a shortlist of products for no charge.
- Run through demos and trials with the vendors themselves
- Ask about whether the product has your must-haves and like-to-haves
- Compare shortlist products
- Meet with your team, collect feedback, and work through what you learned
- Make your final selection (or start over)
You might come to the conclusion that none of the products on your shortlist are a good enough. Hopefully this doesn’t happen to you, but if it does, prepare to start over with a new list of products. It’s better to take the time find the system that will help your nonprofit succeed, than settle on software that isn’t a good fit and no one will use.
Note: Janna Finch is a software research expert. And will soon be on the Nonprofit Ally podcast. So stay tuned.