4 Tips for Evaluating Your Nonprofit Software
Your nonprofit’s software shapes your operations, dictating how your nonprofit raises funds, communicates internally and connects with your community. To continually grow your organization and stay up to date with modern nonprofit technology, you should routinely assess your software and identify opportunities for improvement.
However, evaluating your nonprofit’s technology stack will only be useful if your team knows what to look for. To help your nonprofit assess your software solutions, this article will explore four best practices for determining whether each application is performing at its best. Specifically, we’ll cover tips, such as how to:
- Have a goal for each platform.
- Explore associated developer communities.
- Consider customizability.
- Review integrations.
Keep in mind that the usefulness of your technology stack is dependent on both the nonprofit software itself and how your team is using it. Work alongside and survey team members who routinely use the platforms you’re evaluating to discover whether new software, new training, or even entirely new strategies are needed to improve your technology.
1. Have a goal for your nonprofit software.
Whenever your nonprofit invests in a new piece of software, ensure you are doing so with a deliberate purpose in mind. Having a goal in mind for each platform will help eliminate the need to make unnecessary purchases and provide a specific direction for how each tool will be used.
Some platforms’ goals will be more straightforward than others. For example, you may invest in new accounts payable software to better manage nonprofit finances. By contrast, you may need a complex analytics tool to compile reports on donor behavior on your website to determine how well your SEO strategy is performing and if it is leading to more conversions.
When assessing your current nonprofit software, ensure you have a specific goal in mind for how each platform will be used and contribute to your organization’s overall strategy. DNL OmniMedia’s guide to nonprofit digital strategy walks through the four steps in developing a goal for your software:
- Identify gaps in your approach. Is your software contributing to your digital strategy? If not, what expectations or goals is it failing to meet? Consider these expectations and articulate why each platform is or is not meeting them to identify gaps in your approach.
- Analyze key metrics. Your goals should be measurable. Select a quantifiable target your software can be linked to. For example, for a text-to-give tool, you may set a specific number of donations you would like to see be given through that method. Or, for new communication tools, you might analyze the response and click-through rates.
- Speak with stakeholders. When making decisions about new platforms to invest in, ones to phase out, and new strategies to try, ensure all necessary stakeholders are consulted. This will include decision-makers at your nonprofit, such as the director and board members, as well as high-level staff members who regularly use the given platform.
- Review long-term priorities. How do your goals align with your long-term objectives? If your nonprofit has had a change in direction, is all of your software contributing to this new goal? If a platform is not particularly relevant now, is it projected to become useful again in the future?
Going through this process with each solution in your technology stack will ensure each individual platform is being used well and that all of your software is working towards the same goal.
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2. Explore associated developer communities.
Some platforms will have greater support than others. For example, the Blackbaud CRM and other associated products have a wide community of support, both from the original developer and third-party services.
When assessing your nonprofit software, platforms with a strong support community will likely have longer lifespans, be more customizable, and have the capability to expand and grow alongside your nonprofit. Explore the communities for your software by looking for highly reviewed:
- Developers. Developers can create custom applications for your nonprofit software. Some developers will regularly create new applications that anyone using the given software can purchase, while others can be hired to develop a unique application specifically for your nonprofit.
- Consultants. Technology consultants who are familiar with your software will be able to offer more targeted, relevant advice. For example, a marketing consultant who is familiar with the Blackbaud CRM can provide specific insight into how your communication tools could be used to connect with supporters.
- Training services. Implementing a new software solution will often require training, especially for more complex systems. If you previously identified holes in your approach due to how your team was using your software, it may be necessary to invest in additional training.
Additionally, determine how long each of your software solutions will be supported by their developer. If a developer intends to sunset a specific product in the next few years, it may be necessary to look for a new platform, even if it is currently meeting your needs. Continuing to use unsupported nonprofit software may become a security risk as you will no longer receive updates protecting against new types of data attacks.
3. Consider customizability.
Every nonprofit has unique needs, and your software should meet yours. When evaluating your platforms, consider how customizable each solution is. This should apply to both cosmetic aspects, such as your donation page’s design, as well as entire processes, such as how your team manages and assigns tasks internally.
When evaluating a solution’s customization options, consider its:
- Flexibility. Does your software allow you to accomplish a variety of tasks, engage with the specific processes that are relevant to your work, and provide multiple options for how you choose to complete a task? For enterprise-level nonprofits, it may be necessary to invest in a flexible solution that can be fully customized to your exact needs.
- Technical expertise. Is your team able to customize your software without outside help? Often, nonprofits will hire developers to customize a platform, such as their website. Then, when they need to make a change themselves, they find they lack the expertise needed to make that change. Choose a solution that is user-friendly and ensure you work alongside your developers to learn how to maintain and update your software moving forward. Look for providers that offer training services, as well, to get your team up to speed quickly.
- Scalability. If you find your software lacks the capacity to store additional records, send new messages, or create additional user accounts, you may need to scale up. Your software should scale with your organization. This includes allowing additional access to core features—such as a payment processor’s ability to handle more transactions in a given time span—or the ability to integrate new applications with new functionalities.
As your nonprofit grows, customizability will likely become increasingly important. New nonprofits may appreciate solutions that come with more out-of-the-box tools with straightforward, if rigid, applications. However, as you scale up, if you find your nonprofit continually investing in a variety of diverse applications, it may be necessary to upgrade central tools, such as your CRM.
4. Review integrations.
All of your nonprofit software should work together to accomplish your goals. Ensure your solutions can connect to one another to allow data to flow smoothly between each platform. Some nonprofit software solutions, such as Salesforce NPSP, are designed specifically to integrate with a variety of other applications, while others may integrate exclusively with products from a handful of developers.
Determine whether your current platforms integrate with one another. When looking for additional integrations, there are two options to explore:
- Native apps. Native apps are created specifically for one solution. Nonprofits using popular, highly-customizable CRMs like Salesforce NPSP and Blackbaud CRM will likely have a wider selection of native solutions than small CRMs.
- Third-party solutions. Often, nonprofit software is created without a specific fundraising tool, CRM, or another platform in mind. Then, the developer will partner with other organizations to create an integration. For example, donor prospecting tools are often separate databases, which can then be integrated with a CRM to analyze donor records.
When integrating nonprofit software, be mindful of the expected implementation time. For example, some implementations may be as simple as adding an additional line of code to your website, while others may require partnering with a developer.
Your nonprofit’s technology should serve your goals. Ensure each of your solutions is being leveraged to its full potential by evaluating your goals for it, exploring its support community, and assessing its ability to grow and change with your nonprofit in the future.
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About the author:
Managing Director, DNL OmniMedia
Carl co-founded DNL OmniMedia in 2006 and has grown the team to accommodate clients with ongoing web development projects. Together DNL OmniMedia has worked with over 100 organizations to assist them with accomplishing their online goals. As Managing Director of DNL OmniMedia, Carl works with nonprofits and their technology to foster fundraising, create awareness, cure disease, and solve social issues. Carl lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their two children Charlie and Evelyn.