Choosing a new software platform for your nonprofit can cause lots of stress. But, in my experience, there’s one part of the process that especially makes nonprofit accidental techies freak out a little bit.
There are three key phases to choosing a new software platform:
It’s that third section – managing the demo process – that makes most people feel very squirmy. That’s because they believe that their nonprofit accidental techie status may be about to bite them in the butt. They probably know a lot of things about their needs but making sure you’ve asked the vendor all the right questions is a different matter entirely. It can be a real blind spot.
I frequently offer a workshop on this topic, teaching nonprofit staffers how to evaluate and buy the right nonprofit fundraising and communications software. No matter how many times I’ve given this workshop I always notice the same pattern.
Folks start off relaxed and attentive – until we start talking about the demo process. Then… something changes about the vibe. Attendees sit up in their chairs and lean forward. Hands are waved in the air. People seem stressed out.
But why is this so hard?
What I Don’t Know Drives Me Crazy
We all have blind spots. It’s not always easy to figure out how to deal with them.
Take Sue – she’s the executive director at a nonprofit that provides shelter to homeless women and their children. Great mission, smart staff, thriving supporter base.
The organization is growing rapidly, and her current mix of CRM and engagement software is more than just a pain. It’s holding the organization back.
Sue felt completely reliant on the software vendors to lead her team through the demo and selection process. That worried her, so she called me for a little advice on the demo process.
“I can get answers to the questions that I already have, but I’m sure there are lots of questions that I won’t even know to ask”, she said. “And to make this investment confidently, I have to be sure that I’m not missing anything.”
She was putting so much pressure on herself that making a final software choice was going to be really difficult for her.
There are SO MANY things that just don’t spring to mind when you’re dealing with nonprofit technology, and that makes the stakes feel high.
If it makes you feel any better, I guarantee that we’ve all been surprised by one or more blind spots as we navigate the complexities of today’s array of software platforms. But if you’re like Sue, you need something (or someone) to point out as many potential pitfalls as possible. And the vendor, try though they may, is not always going to be able to do that. So it’s on you.
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First, a pro-tip.
Use open-ended questions for the best results. When you’re investing tens of thousands of dollars (and often more) on new systems, the devil is truly in the details. A simple yes or no answer just doesn’t give you the context that you need to know whether something will work for you and your organization.
Here’s one example:
You: Do you provide training?
Vendor: Yes, we do.
You need specifics! When do you get the training? How is it delivered? Is there documentation? Is the training specific to your configuration, or are you trained in a vanilla version? How many people can be trained?
The best way to get those details is to ask questions in a way that they can’t be answered with a yes or no. Open-ended questions also help to turn this into a conversation rather than just running through a checklist. Conversations provide information, which can trigger new questions.
Here’s that same training question phrased just a bit differently:
You: How will my team be trained?
Vendor: We offer two hours of classroom training and on demand video training, etc. etc.
You’re going to get a much more comprehensive answer by using open-ended questions!
Here are the big eight questions with some context for each one:
If you’re feeling nervous about your nonprofit technology blind spots, start with these eight questions. They’ll help to expand your understanding of elements that are as important as functionality and cost, and you’ll be more likely to find a system that’s a great match for your needs.
This post is republished with permission from Maureen Wallbeoff’s blog. Maureen is a nonprofit digital strategist and technology coach. If you are drowning in data or your systems aren’t working efficiently together, she’s got practical wisdom to share! In addition to her work with clients, she has authored two guides on nonprofit engagement software, blogs at her website, and answers questions live every Friday afternoon on her Facebook page. A regular contributor to nonprofit industry media channels, Maureen has led workshops all over the U.S. and Canada and is one of Idealware’s expert trainers. Contact Maureen: email@example.com | 508-744-3366