Selecting Software for Your Not-For-Profit: Principle #1 – Know What You Need

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In my last blog, “6 rinciples to Follow When Selecting Software Your Not-For-Profit,” we started a conversation about the principals to follow when selecting software for your not-for-profit organization.

The first principal is, “Know What You Need”.

It may seem like an easy task at first but truthfully, the only way to tackle this is to get down to the nitty-gritty and to objectively separate the ‘must haves’ from the ‘nice to haves’.

When thinking about must haves, these are pieces of functionality you just can’t live without.  In your current process, these may even be very manual tasks that are quite daunting.  Ask yourself, “If I am going to invest in software, what are the problems I want it to solve?”

Taking a business process approach is always beneficial.  One way to start this process is to have everyone write down what they do in a day and how much time it takes to perform each task.  This should include tasks on the current software and tasks done using spreadsheets or manually on paper.  Consider the frequency of the tasks as well.  Are they daily, weekly or monthly tasks?

Once you have the tasks written down, you can start to rate them as ‘must haves’ in a software solution and ‘nice to haves’.  This will form a basis for what you are looking for in software.  Of course, in Not-For-Profit organizations there are a lot of requirements that may push you into a software solution that is out of reach from a cost perspective.   Be careful to evaluate the must haves realistically to avoid selecting a software solution with a ton of great functionality that you don’t really need and a hefty price tag to match.

Now, let’s talk about the different requirements and whether an all-in-one product is a suitable expectation for your Not-for Profit.  You must consider the size and complexity of your requirements.  There are so many choices available and the technology is always changing.  At one time, integrating systems was only for the wealthiest organizations.  Today, an integrated solution is common and provides more flexibility to share data across software products.  This is where it may also make sense to consider a common or mainstream product, something with a common back end such as Microsoft SQL, which allows for flexibility in connecting the dots.

If we look at donation management and financial management requirements as an example,   many of the tasks are related to donations; tracking people, names, addresses, donation preferences, and communications.  Other tasks are related to finance; donation amounts, grants, funds, paying bills and financial reporting.  Choosing a software solution designed specifically for tracking donors will likely only provide basic financial support.  Similarly, if you find software that handles encumbrances and fund accounting, it will most likely lack the tools to manage your donors.  The trick is to find out if that matters to your organization.  More importantly, will it matter in two to five years?

These are the types of dialogue and the approach to planning that will inevitably become the foundation for software selection for your not-for-profit.  This thought process will help you determine if you should spend more now to set up a system that will support you for years to come or, if basic functionality is enough.

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