Is your organization ready to take the plunge?
Replacing existing software is a common IT initiative for any organization. The following are five major reasons your nonprofit might start shopping for new software.
1. You need more functionality
The biggest reason for replacing software is the need for more useful features and functions.
For example, one nonprofit manager in the Software Advice survey reported that her organization's donor management system doesn't allow special characters in the name and address fields. This makes it hard to enter data about funders who live outside the United States since their names often include diacritical marks and other characters not commonly used in English-speaking countries.
2. Your software isn't user-friendly
Many nonprofit managers are hunting for software that's easier to use. These leaders are frustrated with defects in so-called interface specification — a major challenge for application developers.
According to software developer and author Scott Meyers, good interfaces do two things. First, they make it easy for people to click on the right icon, button or menu entry simply because it's the obvious and easy thing to do. Second, good interfaces anticipate common errors and make them difficult — or even impossible — for users to make.
In contrast, poor interfaces result in messy screens that leave users guessing about how and where to enter data.
3. Your data is spread out all over the place
Another common reason for software replacement is the need to consolidate information. This becomes a pain point, for example, when a membership management system, donor management system and email software can't share data. Instead of manually entering or syncing data across systems, nonprofits often opt to buy software with better import and export features.
4. You've outgrown your software
Software Advice discovered that about half of nonprofits are using general purpose software. Examples include Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook), Dropbox and Google Drive. While these applications can suffice for new nonprofits, they're often short-term solutions. If your programs, services and funding consistently grow from year to year, then it may be time to invest in more powerful software.
5. You're truly ready for new software
If dealing with software breakdowns consistently hinders your mission-critical activities, then it's likely time to take the plunge.
A checklist before you buy
The previous items might read like a litany of your software pain points. But before you rush to replace your current systems, be careful to:
- Avoid replacing software on a whim. Switching any system is potentially difficult, expensive and time-consuming. This is especially true with software that you've used a long time. Perhaps there are simple workarounds you can adopt to compensate for missing features. After all, there's no such thing as a perfect system.
- Make every effort to maximize your current software. Talk to vendors, consultants and nonprofit colleagues who use the same applications. Find out if your issues can be resolved with add-ons to your current software, free training from the vendor or advice from a technology consultant. Getting more from your existing software is usually easier than learning a whole new system.
- Look for ways to improve your processes. For example, consider how you encourage people to renew their memberships. Does your existing software allow you to generate a report of memberships currently due for renewal? If so, does your staff use this feature? Adding this single step to the workflow might save you from a needless software purchase.
- Make software decisions with a team. Don't buy new software based on the opinion of a single staff member or a water-cooler gripe session. Instead, form a technology team. Include front-line employees who work with your key applications every day. Also invite managers who have the power to authorize purchases and implement systems.
- Consider timing. Avoid software replacements at critical points in the life of your organization, such as during year-end fundraising or program expansions.
Ultimately, the right time to invest in new software is when you're comfortable with your organization's capacity to adopt it.
Idealware: Before you install: Selecting software that meets your needs by Eric Leland (2014)
O'Reilly Commons: Make interfaces easy to use correctly and hard to use incorrectly by Scott Meyers (2009)
Software Advice: Nonprofit software buyer view (2015)
CharityComms: Pick 'n' mix: A guide to technology choices for charities by Sally Hems (2015)