Congratulations! Your nonprofit is growing, and as a result, you’ve outlived your existing software platform. Or, maybe you’re moving along steadily, but finding it hard to get things done with your current set of digital tools. Do you look for a new all-in-one digital suite to handle it all? Do you build custom, from the ground-up? Or, is it a hybrid play where you’ll use some third-party tools, adapt some of your own, and then run it all off a CRM? In short, what is the best software for nonprofits?
In our experience, most clients that have reached this point do one of two things:
While these are easy fixes, choosing one or both of these paths poses problems long-term because one size does not fit all. Each organization is unique, with its own unique challenges, internal culture, operations and strategic goals. Accordingly, purchasing the latest new gadgets without doing an exhaustive review of both practical and strategic needs inevitably leads to band-aid solutions, misspent resources and frustrated staff.
There’s a better way. We’ve worked with many clients to help them architect their tech stacks and digital marketing platforms from the ground-up, and we can boil down into three steps the process that leads to choosing the best software for nonprofits.
Yes, the CRM is bloated and offers too much for your needs. Yes, you want your members, customers and donors to pool into a single database. Sure, you want a grant application portal that you can control and customize as you like. But these are all features. They address an immediate need, but not the root issue behind the need. Assessing the larger, underlying pain point that’s driving the specific need will result in a more comprehensive solution – one that addresses not only the issue at hand, but perhaps a larger, operational or strategic challenge.
Pull back a bit. Seek the ‘Why’ behind the immediate need:
In our client technology assessments, we begin not by asking what the specific problems are, but what are the global outcomes the client hopes to achieve, including:
Only after we receive thorough answers to these types of questions do we then dive deeper into specific task or technology discovery. By that time, we already have a feel for which areas of the tech stack require emphasis. We can also then test the clients’ stated needs versus actual larger needs and determine any unrealized conflicts.
Technology upgrades are complex, labor-intensive initiatives. Accordingly, we recommend assigning a dedicated individual to act as project manager.
In smaller organizations, this typically falls to the Executive Director, something that we advise against. A typical ED already has way too much on their plate to begin with, and thus cannot dedicate the time and focus required to oversee a software upgrade properly. In larger organizations, capable, non-executive individuals can take the helm. In smaller nonprofits, wherever feasible, we recommend that a trusted individual (either outside of or within the organization) other than the Executive Director assume the role of project manager.
Irrespective of who the PM is, this individual will ideally be:
You may not find the individual with all of these qualities, but the more of these boxes you can check off, the higher your chances of a successful outcome.
The goal of your research and analysis is to adopt the best tools and digital practices to run your organization smoothly from the bottom-up. And the best way to accomplish this is to gather all of your findings into a digital roadmap.
A digital roadmap is just that – a roadmap that allows the organization to plan its software and technology needs into the distant future. Of course things will change along the way, so flexibility should be part of that roadmap, but this will be the planning document you can rely on to tie your technology choices and upgrades against your larger goals.
The specifics of the digital roadmap are for another post, but in short it will lay out:
With this type of planning document in hand, there will be less guesswork moving forward, more intelligent fact/goals-based tool selection, and more time to prepare (budget and time-wise) for large-scale upgrades.
That’s the way to do it. That’s how you choose the best software for nonprofits. In the end, it’s all about getting it right the first time. And that happens by doing the work to understand your nonprofit’s foundational needs and then building a plan around that discovery. By then documenting those needs and researching the tools and processes required to meet them, you’ll have structure. The result will be time and long-term cost savings, along with the most value for your expenditure – not to mention a happier staff, fewer executive team headaches and a satisfied board of directors.
If you’re interested in putting together a digital roadmap for your nonprofit, or if you’d like to discuss an especially challenging aspect of your digital infrastructure, let us know. We’re only an email away.
350 Springfield Avenue #200
Summit, NJ 07901
As a digital marketing agency for nonprofits, we write about the work and campaigns we produce, and share what we’ve learned along the way.Count Me In