To put software to use for your nonprofit, you will need to choose the right tool and implement it. For most, this is easier said than done, right? In this article, I outline the software advisement options your nonprofit has to help facilitate your very important software selection process.
Software Advice Options
In the last 5 years, the dynamics of buying software has changed dramatically. What are some of those changes? Below you will find several:
The sheer number of software companies in the nonprofit space will make your head spin.
"Software As a Service" is allowing more software companies to develop "just enough" and "simple" solutions to address the needs of nonprofits.
The internet has made information, once only available from salespeople in the past, accessible to everyone with an internet connect or phone.
People do not answer their phones or return calls anymore. This makes it more difficult than ever for salespeople to connect by with buyers.
As a result of this shift & with so much at stake, how do you find the cloud or off-the-shelf software most closely aligned to your particular nonprofits needs?
Your software advice options can be as diverse as the number of software options on the market today. Let's discuss those options now.
1. "Reseller" Software Advice
In this option, you have an independent consulting firm which typically "sells" and "implements" software for nonprofits.
They generate revenue via the initial and ongoing services to "support" one (to several) software options. Resellers of software have strong and valuable experience in providing services for the software they "choose" to sell and support.
Resellers are usually a reliable resource for additional support beyond the "developer's" capabilities or to augment a nonprofit's staff resources.
Resellers may offer extender modules or add-on applications which were developed to fill a gap in a product they sell.
In terms of software advice, they tend to offer a "this one" or "that one" approach. Software advice option(s) are limited based on a limited scope of option (s) in their bag. Generally speaking, resellers view a solution through a limited lens of options. A good expression comes to mind, "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail". Not necessarily bad, just nature of their selected focus.
2. "Paid By the Lead" Software Advice
The "Paid by the Lead" software adviser is one of the newest players on the list. Many of these online software advice firms have sprouted up in the recent years to offer assistance in narrowing down your software list due to the sheer volume of options now.
Paid by the Lead" software advice providers allow you to conduct a comparison of vendors and software systems."
"Paid By the Lead" companies are tremendous marketing firms which help software vendors with much-needed sales and marketing expertise to increase presence online.
They work very hard to push out content to educate and attract software buyers to their website through search engine optimization.
They are keen lead generators. If you do a "google" search you will certainly run into one of these folks.
They derive revenue by the leads, pay-per-click (PPC), or referrals generated for software vendors.
Make no mistake, "Paid by the Lead" marketing firms are driven by their relationship with the software vendors who pay to play or pay by the click.
Personally, I applaud their marketing prowess, but for nonprofit buyers it's important to realize the nature of their DNA. In my opinion, this type of software advice should be taken with a grain of salt.
3. "Implementor" Software Advice
An "Implementor" is a firm or independent nonprofit consultant who is more like a general contractor for software. They are often confused with software "Resellers".
The difference is "Implementors" do not "sell" software.
They derive revenue by providing implementation services such as managed IT services, project management, training, customization, and ongoing software support.
Typically, these are small "boutique" consulting firms which offer tremendous expertise to their clients.
They can be very useful resources to nonprofits in terms of their expertise to utilize or enhancing the utilization of existing solutions.
Implementors often provide software selection services to their customers as part of their service offering.
Focus is not usually only Software Selection Services.
Therefore, due to the nature of other primary revenue sources, they tend to be limited in their exposure to software options. And, commonly reserve focus on the most well-known software providers to address the needs of their constituents. They do not usually have the time commitment required to continually evaluate software options designed for the nonprofit market. Therefore, software advice may be limited in terms of software options which they have the skill sets to support in-house.
4. "Vendor" Software Advice
The software "Vendor" is your oldest software advice option.
They are "The Experts" in terms of knowing the ins and outs of their respective solution.
They are driven by the "Quotas", "Sales", & License revenue.
They should be able to "Sale" their value proposition and clearly outline why their solution is better than the alternative.
Sales is an admirable profession. The challenge with the current software procurement process is the general disdain for the value of "Sales Professionals" in software procurement process. While this is a mistake, it's also a shame because after working in this industry for well over a decade, it's quite refreshing to realize that most vendor "Sales Professionals" are just that, "Professional". You should certainly "test" your relationship with software vendors but take comfort in knowing that most are indeed good resources when used properly in your search.
In terms of software advice, however, it's important to remember vendors get paid to "Sale". Therefore, it's not advised to rely on the software vendor for transparent and impartial software advice.
5. "Internal" Software Advice
Without a doubt, this is the most common approach to handle software selection projects. The task of finding software is usually delegated out to the de-facto "IT Expert" on staff who also wears many hats including "Membership Director" or "Donor Development" officer.
Self sourcing your software selection is the least expensive option.
Internal software selection projects can also be the most costly mistake if managed poorly or a mistake is made.
Nonprofit staff have usually never been involved in a software selection project. As a result, tend to have less experience developing consensus of needs, developing adequate requirements, and managing a software selection project.
Nonprofit staff have the most experience in knowing more about their "processes" than anyone else.
It's actually quite amazing all the jobs a typical staff performs in a non-profit. In terms of software selection, the thought of searching for the right software is daunting.
In fact, it’s the last thing on the “Must Do List” for many staffers. In terms of software selection process or software advice, "Google Search", "Peer Reviews", "Endless Demonstrations" and "Brevity" are par for the course.
6. "Outsourced Specialists" for Software Advice
An "Outsourced Specialist" is a new software selection option for organizations. It's a stark contrast to the "Paid by the Lead" option in terms of revenue source and yet incorporate a blend of many of positive aspects of the other options mentioned above.
In similiar circles, we often refer to ourselves as "General Practitioners" which have a more holistic view of software selection, focus on requirements as the software selection guide, and have a keen understanding of experts (service/software) in the market. In short, these are some characteristics:
Outsourced Specialists are beholden to serve the needs of the nonprofit only.
Revenue is derived from the nonprofit for a temporary paid engagement to help with making smarter software decisions.
They do not sell, implement, or train on the software which they are hired to help select.
They focus on evaluating software options which affords organizations invaluable intellectual capital on software options.
Their exposure to software options is unlimited and do not get "Locked" into one solution to solve all problems.
They have no incentive to include the software which they are most familiar with or have exposure too.
Outsourced Specialists extend a valuable resource to your nonprofit to handle vendor identification and vendor management.
They have a structured software selection process with years of experience in many software selection projects.
Specialists usually have implemented software, sold software, or worked at nonprofits in the past providing a blend of experience.
Specialists realize that software is only part of the solution. And, have strong relationships with Implementors, Resellers, and Vendors to solve problems.
Which Software Advice Option is Best For Your Nonprofit?
Like software, there is not a one size fits all choice. Each option has it's pros and cons. I am a little biased! Ha! Ha!
If you are a nonprofit that would like to explore your software advice options, please contact us.
We would enjoy sharing with you why we founded SmartThoughts with the intent of becoming the premier software selection specialty firm in the industry.
Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.