Focus On: Software: Are You Plugged In?
“Most executive directors are focused only on mission,” Ahlquist says. “I’m telling them, ‘Hey, here’s some cool stuff that’s going on. If you think some of this can help your organization, start researching it.’”
Use common sense
But CITI’s Jackson cautions executives against trying to be too cutting edge, and so does Jan Masaoka, executive director of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, a California-based, not-for-profit resource center for nonprofit organizations.
“Some nonprofits have been convinced to over-buy software products that are overly big and complicated in proportion to their giving program,” Masaoka says. “You can have a big giving program and a small nonprofit, and vice versa.”
A good consultant likely will recommend software packages in the $500 to $10,000 range for nonprofits with small giving programs. Intermediate packages might cost from $15,000 to $50,000. The most elaborate software packages — “the 500-pound gorillas,” as Jackson calls them — are in the $100,000-plus range and are best suited to the enormous giving programs at nonprofits such as United Way of America.
Masaoka advises nonprofits also to devote time to devising online technology strategies, even though the Internet has yet to become a major conduit for donations.
“A lot of donors go online to learn about an organization, but they may not actually donate online,” she says. “Integrating your online strategy with your multiple ways of giving — that’s what they need to be looking for.”
“They” are the people at the nonprofits best qualified to make decisions about software, online options and other technology solutions. The first thing she does as a consultant, Masaoka says, is to make sure the nonprofit’s accounting department is choosing the accounting software and the tech-savvy people in the development program are choosing the donor-management software and overseeing online operations.
Masaoka also might try to deal with someone who can make the best decisions about software packages geared to event management, planned giving or other special tasks. At a charitable foundation, she’d probably talk to the executive who knew which grant-management software package was best suited to staffers. For example, a package based in Microsoft Access probably would be a good fit if the foundation already was using other Microsoft Office applications.