Day two of an exciting guest series written by Chris Logan from NPower Seattle. Today’s post involves a step by step process to help you evaluate your donor management software needs. Thanks Chris for an excellent series. See his earlier post Evaluating Your Donor Management Software: A Daunting Task.- Jason
Step One – Know your abilities in fundraising
The process should always begin with some kind of development audit. Knowing and understanding the capacities of your development team are critical to making the right choices. There are many development audit formats available in books and even some online. The audit will ask stakeholders to rate your agency’s abilities in various categories and procedures, and provide you with a good idea of where your development and fundraising resources are strong, and places in need of improvement.
Step Two – Understand your technology capabilities
OK – let’s drag out that tech fluency topic again – how tech savvy is your nonprofit? Does your agency strategic plan include a technology component? Where are your technology people resources? What is the state of your computer equipment/operating systems and software? Do you have a strong firewall and security procedures in place?
Step Three – Map out your needs
What are the top elements that you want your donor package to accomplish? List the top 5-10 things your donor package would be used for. Remember – different team members will have different needs – the Development Director might want good reminders for donor follow up, but the grant writer might want strong grants calendaring. What are some features you wish you had? Prioritize your needs based on the entire team, including others outside of development that might benefit or utilize the information or software.
Step Four – Gather information
There are lots of packages available out there, with many features, at widely varying cost. From expensive packages like Raisers Edge, to free online software like Salesforce. Though this sounds like the most important step, it many ways it is actually the least important. Why? Because nearly every package out there today addresses your needs in some way. They all have a core set of functions that basically do the same thing. Note – as a former “Pre-sales Software Demonstrator” heed these words — you must understand that “Yes, our software can do that” does not always mean it is simple, or it works well. I recommend waiting for a software demonstration for later in your process. Gather up as much information as you can on the web, or use some objective review tools available out there. (NPower Seattle offers a toolkit to help though some of the information may be dated.)
Step Five – Narrow your search down
Take 3-4 of what you believe to be the best software options available to you. Tip – When making this list, be sure to include your current software tool as a comparison. As you compare your prioritized list of necessary features, are you sure your current software doesn’t cut it? Is there an upgrade available? Think about the amount of time to install a new package – does ease of transition count for anything in the process? Now, put all the features and functionality on a list or on the whiteboard, be sure to list costs, estimates of time needed, training time and costs, ongoing maintenance and estimate life of the product. Also remember – no data transfer ever goes as quickly or as smoothly as you imagine it will. Now would be a good time to bring in sales demonstrations of the products you have at the top of your list.
Step Six – Choosing
Ask your vendor to provide references from other local nonprofits, then follow up with those whom use the software every day. Check the local events calendars for user groups or other venues to meet and talk to actual users of the software. Be sure to include questions about on-going maintenance and upgrade costs. Check to be sure your computer systems and network can handle the software not only today, but within your technology plan and budget for tomorrow. Be sure to include estimates of training costs – these can be expensive. Do not rely on “I will just figure it out myself”. That almost never works and many times leads to disaster. Remember that cost of the software is typically only a small portion of the long term costs involved. Unless you decide to give your current software another chance – never decide based on cost alone.