4 Steps to Select the Right Software for Your Nonprofit
Your nonprofit’s efficiency and effectiveness depend greatly on the software choices you make. But no matter what software you’re seeking, choosing the right solution to meet your nonprofit’s needs and goals isn’t always easy, especially in today’s rapidly evolving nonprofit technology market.
So, let’s look at four key steps (and some useful tips) for selecting the right software for your nonprofit.
1. Use a Software Review Process to Find Your Nonprofit’s Software Match
When you reach the point in your nonprofit’s software technology plan and identify it’s time for new software, then it’s time to find the right software for your organization. One of the best ways to do this is to issue a request for proposals (RFP).
An RFP is especially important when it comes to purchases of major software, such as customer relationship management (CRM) or fundraising software. It’s a document that helps you gather proposals and understand how well potential products meet your requirements. It includes details about your project and requests bids from vendors.
If the RFP process seems like overkill for your needs, then, at a minimum, work with key stakeholders in your organization to compile a list of requirements and nice-to-haves before scheduling any vendor product demos. This will help to ensure you see demos that show how well each product meets your needs versus only what features the software vendors want to highlight.
Here are some tips for a successful review process.
To ensure your new software meets the most needs, pull together a team of stakeholders in your organization to create a list of pain points from your current software as well as a list of requirements and nice-to-haves for your new technology. Your team might include:
- Software administrators
- Marketing managers/directors
- Development managers/directors
- Program, campaign and event managers/directors
- Accounting managers/directors
- An executive sponsor
Create an RFP/Requirements Document
Your document should include:
- Non-disclosure agreement (if applicable)
- Your organization’s mission and background
- Your marketing and fundraising campaign history, including fundraising goals and results as well as challenges with your current software
- A complete list of your software requirements
- A list of your nice-to-haves
- Your RFP timeline/deadlines, including:
- Vendor questions
- RFP response
- Product demos
- Selection timeline
- Preferred/required implementation start and go-live dates
- Your RFP response requirements, including:
- Proposal format/outline
- RFP questions/responses that you’re requesting
- Budget range for year one and ongoing platform fees
- Your criteria for evaluating RFPs
- How to reply to the RFP and contact information for directing any questions vendors might have
Send the RFP/requirements
Send the RFP to a short list of your top vendor candidates. There are dozens of software platforms on the market today. You can narrow the list by doing some initial research online or by working with a nonprofit software consulting firm that can help you quickly focus on a handful of software options that will work best for your organization.
Answer Vendor Questions
Respond to vendors’ questions as quickly as possible to receive a thorough and accurate proposal. Consider sharing the questions and answers with the other vendors as well so that all vendors have the same information.
Review Vendor Responses
Review all of the RFP responses with your team of stakeholders. Aim to narrow it down to your top three choices to make the final selection process easier. Notify the other vendors that they were not selected.
2. Determine the True Cost of the Software
As you review responses and narrow the list to your top vendors, it’s important to know how much new software will cost your nonprofit. Pricing for major software, such as CRM, fundraising, peer-to-peer fundraising, and marketing platforms, can get complicated. There are multiple aspects to pricing and related fees for these types of software solutions, including:
- Licensing fees
- Transaction fees
- Payment processing/merchant fees
- Implementation fees
- Custom development costs
- Maintenance costs
- Product upgrade fees
- Training costs
Be sure to account for all costs before making your final software decision. For example, software training can have a big impact on nonprofit staff turnover, employee productivity, and job satisfaction. Be sure to include ample funds for initial training to help staff get up to speed quickly on new software as well as ongoing training for onboarding new staff and helping staff use the software even better.
3. Schedule (and Optimize) Software Vendor Demos
Once you’ve reviewed software vendors’ responses and narrowed your list to about three contenders, ask the top vendors to provide demos of their products. Some pre-planning and organization will make demos much more valuable for everyone involved.
Here are some tips to help you optimize software demos:
Tech score sheet. Give your stakeholder team a score sheet that lists requirements and nice-to-haves. Ask the team to score the vendor on each item and take additional notes to help them remember each product’s features. After each demo, compile the scores and meet with your team to discuss any lingering questions that you might want to ask each vendor.
Prioritize features. In advance of the demo, give the software vendor a list of features that are important to you so that the vendor doesn’t just show you a generic demo.
Record the demo. Ask the vendor to record the demo so that you and others can view it again.
Know who is presenting. Make sure you know who from the software vendor is presenting the demo so that you understand their roles. This can help the conversation to run more smoothly.
Request a live demo. Make sure they show you how things work in the actual product (not just slides or screen captures). If the demo includes more than 10 or so minutes of slides, ask them to redirect to a live demo at the earliest convenience.
Jot down questions. Write these questions down as they come to you. Don't assume you will remember them when the opportunity arises to ask.
Stay on track. Ensure that the demo stays on track and focused on your organization's needs and not just the features the vendor wants to highlight. Otherwise, the vendor might gloss over features and capabilities that don’t work as well as you need them to work.
Learn what makes a vendor stand out. On the flipside, give the vendor a chance to impress you with “sizzle.” In other words, give them time to show off what sets them apart.
Schedule time for a follow-up demo. In addition to each initial demo, plan on additional time for follow-up demos to dive more deeply into specific items that were unclear from the initial demos.
4. Make Your Selection
When vendor demos and follow-ups are completed, meet with your stakeholder team to make a final selection. Have your demo scorecards handy for reference, and discuss the pros and cons of each platform.
Here are some tips:
Tally the scorecards. Keep discussions focused on how well the software platforms meet your requirements. Individuals at your organization will have opinions about the platforms based on a variety of reasons, so initiating discussions around overall scores will help to highlight the areas of strength and weakness of each platform.
Discuss the results. You might find that some individuals rated the same features very differently. Discuss those items and, if there is still disagreement, add it to a list for the vendors to provide clarification and more focused demos if needed.
Address concerns. The final software selection won’t necessarily be everyone’s favorite, but you’ll be off to a shaky start if key members of the team don’t feel like their concerns and needs were considered. Ensure that everyone has had a chance to voice their opinions and concerns about each software platform before making the final decision.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Mark founded Cathexis Partners in 2008 to help nonprofit organizations get the most from their existing technology tools, implement new technology to address gaps and find the best overall approach to using technology to support their missions. He previously served as director of IT consulting at a fundraising event production company focused on nonprofits.
Mark also serves on the editorial advisory board for NonProfit PRO, where he contributes monthly to his blog, “Nonprofit Tech Matters.”