For nonprofit staff, getting the most bang for your buck isn’t just a goal, it’s a way of life. Stretching resources to maximize output and impact is the name of the game for organizations working to make a difference in the world on limited budgets. Because of these principles, the process of evaluating and deciding on investments such as technology tools can be difficult for many nonprofits, because it requires a complicated process of weighing short term costs with long term benefits, while keeping multiple stakeholders happy. This struggle is only compounded by the abundance of nonprofit software vendors on the market, all of which likely offer both pros and cons to any organization considering them.
To get started, download this template for gathering and comparing vendor information. We’ll walk you through how to use it to make sure that you find a nonprofit technology vendor that fits your needs for the best price.
1. Determine priorities beforehandBefore you talk to vendors or see any product demos, speak with all involved parties within your organization to determine and rank your priorities, so that everyone is clear and on the same page about the qualities you are looking for in a software tool as you begin the evaluation process. Once you have consulted with each person or role that will be using the software, we recommend creating a list of all desired features and categorizing them as Non-Negotiable, Critical, Highly Desirable, and Nice-to-Have (or another tiered priority system of your choosing). Breaking desires down by priority will help you immediately narrow down the field of options, excluding any candidates that lack non-negotiable qualities, and gives you a more clear way of comparing the importance of the features each software offers. While you’ll still likely have some tough decisions between quality and quantity, this practice will help your team to clearly identify how each option fits your needs.
2. Quantify values to help compareWhen possible, assign number values to desires and compatibility to aid in comparison. For any given feature, whether or not a vendor meets your needs may not be a simple yes or no answer. Using a 1-10 scale or other similar metric may help you compare those options that fall somewhere in the middle. The important thing to remember when assigning values in this way is that it is a subjective personal system to help you compare options relative to each other - a "4" to one person won't mean anything to someone else, so make sure you're consistent in your application of this standard. If you like working with numbers, you might also try ranking priorities with a numeric scale (awarding higher and lower point numbers to top and medium priority features, and subtracting points for drawbacks), to allow you to get a clear comparison of the pros and cons of multiple systems. Just remember, if the numbers are saying one thing and your gut is saying another, go back and review your designations to make sure that they truly reflect the level of your priorities. At the end of the day, you might find that one 50-point feature is more beneficial to your nonprofit than 50 1-point features, and that's fine - quantifying values is just a tool to help you move through the decision process.
3. Get it all in front of you
No one can make effective comparisons when the data that you are working with is spread throughout scribbled sheets in a notebook or haphazardly typed into a notes document, or even worse, lives solely in the minds of one or more people. To make sure that your team is able to effectively review the outcomes of software demos and vendor conversations, make sure to keep your notes in a central and accessible location. Spreadsheets are great for this, because the ability to sort and filter data also makes visual analysis easier. A spreadsheet also provides the ability to easily share your work with colleagues and approvers.
Picking database software for your nonprofit is a big decision, especially for large organizations with multiple database users and types of constituents. To avoid getting stuck in the decision phase because you’re lost in a mountain of information about software features and capabilities, use a spreadsheet like the template that we have created to organize and analyze that information effectively. Keeping track of all of the data that you gather during the evaluation process is the most effective way to compare options and make sure that you are getting the most benefit for the best price.