Non-Profits Software – The Do’s and Don’ts of Selecting the Right Software Solution

It’s a well known fact that non-profit organizations have very strict guidelines with regard to the way they run their operations, particularly with accounting and audit trails. Therefore, determining which software solution is the best fit for your particular organization can be a time-intensive process. Below are the top three Do’s and Don’ts of selecting a non-profit software solution to help ease the process for your organization.


  1. Identify Required and Desired Functionality of the New Software Solution. It’s important to know what you need and want from a software solution. Perhaps online donations are important to aide in your fundraising efforts. Or maybe comprehensive reports and performance analytics are required by your Board of Directors each quarter. And maybe improving your marketing efforts is a big priority for the next fiscal year. Whatever your needs and wants may be to run your non-profit organization more efficiently and effectively, differentiate between the “must-haves” and “nice to haves” so that you weigh and score technology partners equally.
  2. Involve Personnel to Drive Adoption. It’s important to involve personnel from key departments every step of the process, from identifying requirements to implementing the software. You must take into account what pains or frustrations your staff members may be facing, and ensure that the new solution will address these challenges and be implemented in a way that is parallel to existing workflows. Involving staff members in every step will ultimately drive adoption of the new technology because they have contributed to the resolution and will have already approved the technology being adopted.
  3. Be Thorough in Your Research of Technology Partners. Your research into various software providers should be multi-faceted. Be sure to use each of the following research methods when pulling together your list of viable non-profits software partners.
  • Talk to Industry Peers. This does not mean simply asking other non-profits what software they’re using and whether or not they like it. Talking to industry peers means asking what their criteria was for new software, what the selection process was like for them, what the total cost of ownership is, and how well the software met their needs.
  • Research Online. Look for ratings and reviews, both good and bad, for each of your top software candidates. Visit each software company’s website and read through their information thoroughly. Read the company’s news to see how well the company is doing and if they seem to be financially stable. Read testimonials and case studies to look for similarities between your organization’s needs and the vendor’s customer needs.
  • Talk to Technology Providers. After narrowing your list of potential technology partners down to a manageable number, start making phone calls directly to the companies. Pay attention to how friendly, knowledgeable, responsive and open company representatives are over the phone. Ask candid questions about industry experience, customer service, and software functionality. Ask sales staff what their non-profits customers would say about the company if you were to call them up. These are all very fair questions to ask and the right software company will be more than willing to provide any information you need to know to make your software selection.
  • Request On-Site Demonstrations. By the time you reach the software demonstrations phase, you should have narrowed your list down even further to just a handful of possible partners. Before software vendors arrive for demonstrations, collaborate with staff members to create a comprehensive list of questions to ensure that you are prepared to evaluate each vendor equally. Ask vendors to walk you through step-by-step processes for a typical transaction your staff might handle on any given day. Ask what customers find most challenging about the software. Ask what feedback the company receives the most on the software. Ask every question that you and your staff deem important in the software selection process. And ask these questions to each of the vendors.


  1. Buy Software Based on Features Only. When focusing just on features of the software, such as online registration, membership management tools, Web content management, etc., you can unknowingly overlook other important factors, such as software scalability, technology requirements, customer service support, total cost of ownership, and finding a software solution that doesn’t change your business processes. It’s important to buy non-profits software that will grow with your organization, allow you to take advantage of existing investments in computers and other IT equipment, offer you 24/7 customer service support, save you money while driving new revenues and donations, and be user-friendly so anyone, from  shareit for laptop volunteers to full-time staff, can utilize the software to improve current business processes.
  2. Evaluate Only the Initial Costs. There are a number of companies that require minimal to no upfront costs for their software solutions. However, after the initial installation, it’s important to understand other costs that may be associated with the software, such as annual license fees, upgrade charges, general maintenance costs, usage fees, customer service support fees, and additional IT investments that may be required as your organization grows and expands. Be sure to request, in writing, details of your organization’s total cost of ownership for each software package you’re considering. It’s important to be aware of this number at the forefront to not only evaluate total cost expenditures from one software company to the next, but to also understand when this money will need to be allocated from your budget.
  3. Buy More Than You Need. If your non-profit organization doesn’t have leagues, you shouldn’t be paying for league management tools. If your non-profit doesn’t have dedicated IT personnel in-house, you should probably consider a hosted software deployment so your software provider can manage all IT needs for you. Bottom line, request exactly what you need and want and don’t pay for anything extra. It’s difficult to justify the added expense and can be confusing for staff to navigate around.

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