How to Know When it’s Time for New Software for Your Nonprofit: 3 Signs

This article was originally posted on NonProfit PRO’s blog.

What do you do when you have a nagging feeling that it’s time for new software for your nonprofit, but you aren’t quite sure? Or when you suddenly realize that you’ve been using the same software for several years and start to wonder if there’s something better out there?

Your technology choices directly impact your organization’s efficiency and effectiveness. That’s why it’s worthwhile to set aside time at least annually to review your technology and consider if it’s time to replace software or even add a new software product to your technology mix.

Three signs that it might be time for new software for your nonprofit

How do you know if new software is the answer for your organization? As you think about your nonprofit’s software, here are three clues that it might be time for a new solution:

1. You’re getting negative feedback.
Your constituents and donors might come to you directly to complain about how difficult it is to interact with your organization because of your online forms and processes. But even those you don’t hear from directly might be telling you something.

For example, here are some things to watch out for:

  • Increasing support requests – If your staff is receiving an increasing number of support requests from people who are trying to donate online, sign up for an event, volunteer, or participate in a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign, it’s time to take notice. This is an indication that your software is outdated or simply too user-unfriendly.
  • Growing registration abandonment – Monitor the number of people who are abandoning your donation and/or registration forms. If that number is high or starts to increase, it’s a clue that you need software that provides an easier and more intuitive online experience.
  • Poor survey feedback – If you have a hunch that your software isn’t providing an optimal experience for your constituents, volunteers, and donors, just ask. Send them a survey or set up a focus group to capture their feedback. Ask direct questions about their online experience, including how easy it is to find and complete online forms, how your online experience compares with other online experiences they’ve had within the last year, and what suggestions they have for improvements.

TIP: While these might be signs that you need new software, be sure to check your processes to see if there’s anything you can tweak to make the online experience better.

2. It’s taking too long to get things done.
Does it seem like your staff isn’t working as efficiently as they should? Or are they complaining about how hard it is to do relatively simple things?

If it’s taking your staff a long time to do regular tasks, such as the following, then it might be time for new software:

  • Making changes to web pages or online forms – because it requires coding (versus faster and more intuitive drag-and-drop functionality) and/or because after making changes, the results aren’t as expected
  • Setting up or editing new fundraising campaigns –because the software is slow or not intuitive
  • Pulling information for campaigns, events, and board reports – because data is spread out over multiple systems or the reporting functionality in your software is too complicated

TIP: If you’re seeing staff inefficiencies, check to see if training might be the issue, versus the software itself. Make sure your staff is fully trained in the areas of the software they use most often, and make sure they know how to access refresher training in areas they use less frequently.

3. You just can’t do what you need to do.
Things change. The world changes, technology changes, people’s expectations for online experiences change, and your nonprofit’s strategy evolves. So, it’s not surprising that at some point, you might find that your software isn’t the right fit for you anymore.

Here are some symptoms of software that your organization has outgrown:

  • You’ve expanded your marketing and fundraising strategy to include social media, various apps, wealth screening tools, and other technologies, but your software doesn’t support or integrate with them.
  • Your software no longer integrates (or never really did) with other key software that your organization uses now or plans to add soon. You either can’t do some things that are in your plan, or you find that you need to come up with a series of workarounds to get things done.
  • Your organization’s budget has changed, and the cost of the software you’re using exceeds the new budget for it.

What to do next

If you recognize one or more of the signs that it’s time for new software, here are a few steps you can take:

  • Make sure you’re optimizing your existing software. For example, have you upgraded to the latest version of the software? Have you activated all of the features available in the product? Are there advanced trainings your staff can take to make better use of the product?
  • Check your contract. Be sure to understand how much time you have left in your current software contract. It might seem that you have a long time before your contract ends, so it’s not worth concerning yourself about new software for a while. But selecting and implementing new software can take several months (even a year or more for complex solutions!). So, if you think it’s time to move to new software, get ready to start the process now.
  • Begin your search for new software. The process for selecting and implementing new software will depend on your organization’s specific technology plan and procedures. But here are the most common steps:
    • Make the business case for new software to your nonprofit’s leadership and board, and secure approval.
    • Create a comprehensive list of requirements for your new software (this will require involvement from other stakeholders in your organization).
    • Research software options and narrow your list to a handful of contenders.
    • Review various software options through either a formal request for proposals (RFP) process or a less formal process.
    • Schedule product demos.
    • Make your selection.
    • Start planning the implementation of the product.

It can be helpful to work with a consulting firm that specializes in nonprofit software to help you find and implement the right software for your organization. They typically know about the latest products on the market, understand how to find the right fit for your organization, and can implement your chosen software in a way that best meets your needs.

Just remember: Your nonprofit’s ability to grow and thrive depends heavily on the software you use. Be sure you have the best technology in place for your organization’s needs so that you can work efficiently and deliver the online experience your constituents expect.

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