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How Scarcity Can Impact Nonprofit Software Procurement

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

Nonprofit Software Decisions Come from Scarcity

Would you agree that nonprofit management is all about juggling resources in the context of scarcity? After all, the mission typically in a nonprofit is to aid as many people as possible with finite—often scarce—resources. Right? In this article, I discuss recent studies on how people deal creatively with having little. And, how software procurement in the nonprofit community is likely linked to the phenomenon of scarcity.

The Scarcity Effect in Software Procurement

As a software adviser, I tend to find myself out on the road at a client engagement quite a bit. So during my time away, I take the opportunity to read ( a lot) especially since I struggle to do so sometimes at home due to a demanding yet rewarding home life with a lovely wife, two children, and sometimes our annoying dog, cupid who constantly wants to be let in and out to chase squirrels.

That said, I had the chance to read an article on scarcity found in Fast Company. The article was co-authored by an Illinois University professor of business administration Ravi Mehta, who set out to investigate the link between resource availability and consumer creativity.

The article made me contemplate the concept of scarcity as it relates to software procurement. Here is an excerpt:

While scarcity has been a pervasive aspect of human life, … people in modern industrialized societies take resource availability for granted. Consumerism and over-acquisition have become the order of living and abundance has emerged as the norm, especially in the first world societies.

After reading the article, I began to ponder the question- What happens when scarcity rubs up against the inclination to take resource availability for granted? Then, this led me to take a closer look at nonprofit software decisions and how scarcity played a part in software procurement and even nonprofit management.

The Resource Availability Trap

It’s obvious, Nonprofit staff, from executives to frontline workers, are people driven by their organization’s mission. They typically epitomize the “squeaky wheel” notion, focusing their scarce time and energy each day on urgent priorities. As per the article outlines so well, this make-do-and-mend mentality is the way our grandparents—and in some cases parents—approached the world, ranging from jam-jars used as drinking glasses to cigar-box guitars.

In fact, I always laugh about an incident where my wife’s grandmother from Minnesota attempted to serve my wife and I a ham dinner from leftovers she had from a funeral service she went to two years prior.

Yikes! Suffice it to say, we decided to take her out to eat instead!

For many people, technology is a key tool in their business and personal world. Nonprofit staffers are not that much different. They too rely on technology to support their efforts: tracking financials, writing board reports, maintaining client and donor lists, managing events, getting out PR/marketing materials, attracting volunteers, and maybe keeping up with social media too.

The trouble arises when nonprofit employees perceive their technology to be inadequate to their immediate task. Why? As the Fast Company article indicates, their inclination is likely to be a pivot to find a way to use what they have without thinking about all facets of the business. In other words, most tend to acquire new software to better accomplish a specific task rather than view the problem outside of their immediate needs.

Creativity and Going Rogue

Now think about what Professor Mehta described, above. The scarcity decision here looks like this: We can purchase the right nonprofit software just to help us (circle the right answer) improve our donor tracking, manage event registration, or track our work with clients.

If we in our society are inclined to take resource availability for granted, we will pivot to purchasing the software we think we need just for one specific task—until the next task comes along for which our software proves inadequate. Moreover, we tend to be trapped into believing that purchase is the most efficient use of our scarce resources.

After all, when we are purchasing only the software we need for that single task. We’ll save money and time, won’t we?

Professor Mehta would beg to differ. Worse yet, as the Fast Company article shows, studies reveal that “abundance”—in this case, purchasing software each time we perceive the need to improve one type of task—“inhibits creativity,” leading us to think that the only “solution” is to buy more software piece by piece.

On the other hand, as Professor Mehta points out,

Given a problem with scarce resources, the human mind will twist and mull until it has a solution. This creativity is probably our species most important feature.

Scarcity’s Ideal Nonprofit Software Solution

Cobbling together intermediate “fixes” simply causes a delay in identifying and procuring the software automation solution that will bring real returns on the investment in time and money. To better understand the costs of this delay, click here to read my blog, Can Your Nonprofit Afford to Wait on Marketing Automation?

In other words, rather than purchase a jumble of limited software “fixes” which limit employees’ effectiveness and creativity, a nonprofit is better served by turning to a strategic software solution. A software fit that seamlessly integrates technology’s role and truly enhances all of the agency’s work. In more often that not, the result will be much greater financial savings and more efficient use of staff’s time and energy.

As a software adviser, I spend a great deal of time with executives who are dealing with the impact of scarcity and the impact it has on the tools implemented in various nonprofits today. In fact, one of the primary reasons executives are frustrated is because they lack an integrated solution. Rather, they deal with a collection of independent applications that have developed into a gargantuan hair ball of a mess.

I believe that there’s likely a software solution tailored to your nonprofits needs and budget. And, I believe that if fitted correctly it can make a huge impact in your nonprofit. But, it’s important to curtail our human desire in organizations to pull together the resources we have to solve the task in front of us problem after problem. And, instead take the necessary time to strategically contemplate a solution which will truly keep our organizations away from starving.

If you are struggling to deal with scarcity mentality in your nonprofit, juggling multiple systems, and need help with finding a software solution for your nonprofit we at SmartThoughts would be happy to help.

Contact us and start your organization on the road to maximum efficiency today. Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Not for Profit Donor Management Software Guide


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