Random Thoughts on Life and Work

September 29, 2006

How To Buy Donor Software

Filed under: Charities,Charity,Non-Profit,nptech,Software — Darren Mullenix @ 8:50 am

My good friends at McConkey/Johnston International sent me their latest e-newsletter yesterday.  I thought I would share (with their permission) a very well written article by Sally Funk, Manager of Support Systems and Services.  Sally provides a well articulated process for evaluating your donor software needs and making the final decision on a vendor.  Because there are so many options out there now, it is important to determine what you want your software to do for you and then ask all the right questions. 

How To Buy Donor Software

and have a tool you can really use when the dust settles

First, it’s not just about the purchase. It’s about the tool you and others will live with for years.

Too many organizations get so caught up in the complications of the purchase process, they lose sight of why they need the software in the first place. The objective is to find a tool that meets your organization’s needs and to install it so that you get the most out of it.

Know What You Need

All good donor tracking software packages have two things in common. First, each application started off to solve a particular problem and then grew. This gives each application unique strengths and weaknesses. Some started as event organizers; others focus on capital campaigns, while still others are strongest in missionary support. Second, they’ve all grown to include a lot of user-defined customization – the better to sell more software. This enables you to fine tune the software to better fit your needs.The key is to know what you’re looking for:

  • What are your development programs? What do you need to track the most? What current problems need to be solved?
  • What is your infrastructure? Are you spread across the country, or focused in one community? Do you have a fully staffed IT department, or just a guy that comes in two days a month? Do you need an application that you access over the Internet, or do you need one that is installed on your internal computers/network?
  • What is your culture? Did you just upgrade from quill pens or are you ‘tech-friendly?
  • What are your future plans? Are you looking to add new programs or strategies that will need to be supported? Will the software support substantial or even dramatic growth?
  • What’s your budget – in funds and time? You’ll need to determine a preferred and an allowable level for both. Know that changing donor software is like house remodeling: it usually takes longer than you think and costs more.

Make up a list of what you must have, what would be good to have, and what you’d love to have. Include a list of problems the new software needs to solve.

Find A Good Fit

Now you’re prepared to go shopping. Every software salesman is convinced, without a doubt, that his or her software is the ideal solution for your organization. That’s their job. Use your list of criteria, parameters, functionality, and such to ask questions and compare the different products. Note the type of answers you get:

  • Yes, it does that. Let me show you how that works (A+).
  • I know it does that, but let me get you in touch with one of our technical people to answer your question in detail (B- but honest).
  • I don’t see why it wouldn’t do that (C- )
  • Why would you want to do that? (F)

Think about the software company itself. As long as you have their software, you’ll have a business relationship with them. Check their references and background. How long have they been in business or involved in donor software? Will they be reliable? Is their customer and technical support responsive and competent? How do you feel about working with these people over the long run?

Include The Implementation

Once you’ve found one or two packages that will meet your needs, it’s time to negotiate. This helps you and the software company define exactly what you’re buying. Factors that can affect cost:

  • Number of users (some sell total users, others concurrent users)
  • Additional modules (compare benefit to cost)
  • Customer/Technical Support (you’ll probably want to include at least one year to help with your learning curve)
  • Installation
  • Training

The installation and training can often be outsourced or even handled internally if you have the appropriately trained staff, but it should not be left out of the process.After the purchase, there are several implementation steps which you must accomplish to take full advantage of your new tool:

  • Installation – the technical part of getting the software up and running
  • Configuration – taking advantage of the user defined/customizable elements of the software. Some will be done before the data conversion and some – like setting up queries and reports – after the data is in place. The temptation is to use the standard, ‘one size fits all’ configuration provided by the company as a default (the IT guys usually like this option), but this is where most of the fit between the software and your organization happens. The development department should be closely involved in this step.
  • Data conversion – actually moving the data from the old software to the new.
  • Definition of data standards and internal user manuals – the ‘how we do it here’ standards to keep your data consistent and usable.
  • Training – don’t skimp on this area. Most companies have a variety of options for training, from training libraries to on-site, face-to-face training. You can also often find third parties to provide this service. It often looks like an area where a lot of money can be saved, but skipping the training phase can cost much more in the long run than the ‘bottom line’ suggests. Choose a training option that fits the learning style of the people who will use the software the most. Incorporate key training principles in your internal user manual and use that manual for training of new users.
  • You may need some additional help in the purchase and/or implementation process. If you’re looking at acquiring new software, McConkey/Johnston can provide assistance with many aspects of the process, from evaluation through implementation. Contact sally_funk@mcconkey-johnston.com for more information.

Planning for the whole process and keeping focused on the long-term objectives will help you acquire the new tool that will enhance your development efforts for years.


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