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Pursuing The Mythical Software Unicorn

In 1997, I began my career in the enterprise software industry. During that time, I have seen many new features, trends, and software companies come and go. In this article, I will share briefly my personal journey in the search for a perfect solution, the software unicorn, and my relentless pursuit to assist my clients with selecting the best software fit for their respective organizations.

The Journey to Find the Best Nonprofit Software 

Can You Handle the Truth?

Yes, thank you very much Tom Cruise (from his famous line in A Few Good Men), I want the truth. And, I feel like I can handle the truth too. In my job, I am continually evaluating software options for my clients and have committed myself to finding the best software solutions on the market today. During this time, I have not limited my software search to the lesser known software vendors. Rather, I have an open mind and actually am intrigued by both the mature software players who have put out good software products for years and equally new software players which have recently come into the market to build a “Better Mouse Trap”.

In my mind, every application software player may be a possible candidate for an organization’s “Software Unicorn”, the perfect fit. I believe that organizations who embark on a software selection journey should seek “Awesome Results”. And, I begin each software selection project with excitement in hopes of finding that particular software solution (product and services) which is just the right match. I still have this excited feeling even though I know perfection or the “Best Software” isn’t usually one particular software option each and every time. I know the truth.

What is the Best Software Fit for Nonprofits?

As stated, I am relentless in my pursuit to help my clients find a solution which truly meets their requirements and business objectives. Even though it’s not perfect, a “Software Unicorn”, we always seek a solution which will solve key business challenges. And, even neutralize some of their poisons in the work environment (Ex. lack of efficiency, lost revenue, losing supporters). The idea of “The Best Software“, a Software Unicorn, is a futile pursuit.

Yes, after reviewing literally hundreds of software vendors and devoting countless hours researching vendors, interviewing them, writing product reports, and sitting through countless demonstrations, there is no such thing as the mythical “Software Unicorn” nor a software which can take a prize for “The Best” in every use case. The Best Software for Nonprofits is unique to every organization.

Despite similar duties and roles, every organization is unique. Conversely, so too is every software product & vendor. Yes, there is a “Best Software Fit” for my clients, but there isn’t one and only “Best Software” which solves everyone’s problems all the time. There is a distinction between the two. And, that truth or knowledge is sometimes painful for executives to come to grips with. Especially when so much money and risk is at stake to get “The Best Software”. There will be work to do to make the software the “Best for You”.

There is App for That!

Unfortunately and fortunately, in the last five to seven years, personal productivity applications and easy to create websites have proliferated. Everyone has the ability to get “that application” for this and that. For that reason, I believe because we know that technology is accessible, affordable, & easier for the almost anyone there has to be an enterprise software which is just like that too.

In essence, our thirst has been “teased” with the “possibilities” of what we have experienced (the Amazon Experience) so our desire for “more” keeps us pursuing the elusive “Software Unicorn” to help rid us of futility, poisons, & pain in our day-to-day jobs. I believe that in many cases this has perpetuated the myth to some extent.

The Pursuit of Finding “The Best Software”

I am amazed by how many CRM, Membership Management, Donor Databases and Marketing Automation Software solutions are on the market today. The reality is that many are very capable. Unlike most sane adults, I love researching software platforms. Even more, I enjoy reviewing solutions which truly solve business problems. Whether it be helping with the use of non-transactional data or how we can capture and use transactional data to make better decisions, the benefits of technology abound. That is exciting. I truly find myself sometimes getting lost in exploring software systems.  But, since software selection is our primary service, it’s valuable for my clients too. It truly pays to discover!

But, I Still Haven’t Found What I Am Looking For

Very early on in my career, I questioned whether or not clients failed because they didn’t or had not found the “Perfect Software”. In some cases, they do fail. However more often than not, I realize now that failure is not in “not” finding the “Perfect Software” but rather not finding the “Perfect Fit In A Solution”.  To reiterate, an evaluation based on seeking perfection is a flawed misconception. Rather, “Awesome” comes in selecting you organizations “Best Fit”. It’s so critical to first seek “must haves, goals, and priorities”.

In so many levels, it is a waste of time for all parties involved if you start with vendor identification (doing demos) rather than looking first at your organizations uniqueness first. A search based on features and functionality rather than end goals and metrics of success will lead to a “Perfect Failure”. If you still haven’t found what you are looking for, you likely don’t know what you need or require to be an “Awesome” fit for you. Further, the lack of defining your aspirations will paralyze your organization’s abilities to make a decision too. Resulting in lost opportunities, frustration, and usually a hasty decision in the end. Should You Give Up The Myth? Absolutely not!

It’s prudent to reach for the stars. Your organization should aspire to obtain the “Smartest Fit” based on your overall goals as an organization. Your organization should also take the time to prioritize them too because at the end of the search you will need to make a decision. And, without firm needs documented you will have a tougher time making that final decision.

The Myth of the Software Unicorn; It is Not An Animal, It is A Human Being

One final word on the myth of the Software Unicorn. Contrary to the prevailing perception of many executives searching for software today, the best cannot be found in just features, functions, or roadmaps. Nope, the myth is not an animal, a unicorn. Human beings who work at software providers as much or more than anything else impact software success. The myth is that the software product is all that matters. Unfortunately, human beings are often underestimated in the search for “The Best Software for Nonprofits”.

If you take nothing else away from this article, please make note of this. Software is written by people for people. Support, Service, and a deep commitment by both client and vendor to solve your key problems (documented early on and measured) will be the key to realizing your elusive and mythical unicorn. After years on my personal and professional journey to find that mythical “Software Unicorn” there is no truer statement than “Success can be found in the Partners You Choose”.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Software reviews for Nonprofits


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