Focus on your drivers, needs and budgetHave you outgrown your grant tracking spreadsheet? Are you looking for a more sophisticated way to manage or report on your grant applications? It might be time to invest in grant management software. Do your due diligence to ensure that you make the right choice for your organization.
What's driving the purchase?
You don't necessarily need to follow an extensive formal process, but take time to identify the primary drivers behind your purchase decision. For example:
- Do you need grant management software to replace a manual system or are you replacing existing software that no longer meets your organization's needs?
- If you're replacing existing software, are you looking to streamline operations?
- Do you anticipate growth or other changes in the next few years that would affect your grant management software needs?
How will the software fit into your business processes?
Consider your organization's business processes. For example:
- Who will use the grant management software?
- How will it be used?
- Will new grant management software require changes to current business processes?
- How will grant management software fit with existing accounting software?
What are the most important features?
Next, identify and prioritize desired functionality for your grant management software, such as:
- Depth and customization of stored data fields
- Communication capabilities (such as manual and automated emailing)
- Workflow management (such as grant review and decision-making support)
- Off-the-shelf and customized reporting
- Online application submission
- Online metrics reporting by grantees
- Specialized grantmaking needs
Also consider related issues, such as:
- Compliance with data protection and privacy laws (including HIPAA compliance for U.S.-based nonprofits)
- Accessibility (such as cloud-based vs. desktop)
- Ease or speed of use
- Availability and quality of system documentation
- Length and cost of technical support and training
- Backup and recovery
- Technical configuration (including number of users and need for simultaneous access or access restrictions)
- Ease of conversion or portability (including any transitional period or downtime while data is transferred into the new system)
- Integration with other software or programs
- Scalability (ability to meet current and future needs)
- Maturity of the solution and company
What's the budget?
Confirm your software budget to help narrow your choices. Remember to account for both initial and ongoing expenses — such as upfront and annual license fees and staff time for implementation and maintenance.
What are the most common pitfalls?
It may be tempting to skimp on requirements gathering or simply go with the first recommendation, but this can lead to the wrong software choice for your organization — and a difficult decision down the road on a costly conversion to another solution. On the other hand, spending too much time on requirements may waste precious resources and delay the purchase and implementation of your new software.
Narrow the decision to your top two or three solutions. Then:
- Compare the capabilities of each solution against your requirements and priorities
- Use a matrix or scorecard to weigh the key advantages and disadvantages of each (including support and maintenance needs)
- Consider the trade-offs you're willing to make as you prioritize between the variables of cost, features and time
- Review your results with the key stakeholders and decision-makers
- Develop as much consensus as possible — and make the call on your new grant management software
Idealware: Consumers guide to grants management systems by Chris Bernard (2016)
National Center for Family Philanthropy: How do you choose grants management software? by Laura Quinn (2014)
Capterra: Top grant management software products