Does Bad Software Hurt Nonprofits?
The short answer is yes. If your data-tracking systems need their own organization charts or binders full of complicated instructions, then your software infrastructure is definitely broken.
Recently I visited one of our partners in California to review its software systems. It's a large nonprofit with chapters throughout the United States, and its software infrastructure is very typical: Salesforce, PayPal, Eventbrite, MailChimp, Square, Quickbooks, etc. We identified six critical systems that didn't work together.
The cherry on top was when I discovered that those six different systems didn't communicate — at all. This sophisticated nonprofit was manually inputting and managing all of its data by hand, which resulted in messy data and immense staff burden. What century is it? How did nonprofits get stuck in 1999, and how do we get them out?
This nonprofit isn't unique. In fact, the above scenario is all too common. It starts by having huge amounts of available data that is difficult to decipher, often entered incorrectly, and due to poor quality software, it quickly becomes impossible to find actionable information in a sea of messy code. We're living in 2015 where nearly everyone lives online and advanced technology has become a seamless part of our daily lives. We must do better.
What is good software?
Good software makes your life easier. You should look forward to using your donor database. That's a weird thought, huh? The experience should be painless, fun and surprising.
Great software makes technology invisible. It tells you what you need to know before you ask, gives you actions instead of riddles, and you should be able to learn it intuitively without training. In fact, we have a test called the Intern Test that helps us quickly determine whether our software is well-designed. It goes like this" "An untrained intern must be able to figure out any task in our system within 10 minutes and without coaching" because anything less would be poorly designed software.