Does Bad Software Hurt Nonprofits?
Design With Impact
User experience is the field in software development dedicated to making technology intuitive, painless and efficient. It’s much more than just “design,” and in my opinion, it’s the most important part of any system. You can have the most powerful software in the world, but it’s useless if you can’t use it well.
Nonprofit software is notoriously among the worst when it comes to user experience. Our investors thought we were pranking them when we showed screenshots of a competitor. It's not just about looks either; it's about quantifying the damage caused when your system betrays you by requiring hours of valuable staff time on tasks that can be completed in minutes.
Image: Here's a quick "napkin estimate" to give you a sense of impact, but I recommend doing your own calculations. The results are surprising.
How your data got messy
In the 1990s, software came on CDs and was physically installed on a computer. Millennials have no idea what I’m talking about, but most of you can relate. Storing your donor database on a local system had lots of drawbacks: Data could be easily lost, software had to updated manually, and you had to enter all of your data manually because systems couldn’t communicate. This meant that nonprofits needed several data “silos” that functioned largely independently of each other and required an expert to use properly. Millennials can’t even fathom the codes you needed to memorize to run reports …
The biggest problem with these silo systems is that it’s incredibly difficult to extract useful data and it’s even harder still to draw correlations between different systems. This makes it incredibly challenging to analyze data in any meaningful way. I’ve spent untold hours cursing nonprofit software for this reason. How could such expensive software do so little? Why did I have to spend weeks learning systems that yielded so little value? I suppose it was the best we could do in the 1990s.