According to our records, there are well over 150 commercially developed database software vendors who purport to offer a system for member and donor based organizations today. Whether you call it Donor Management Software, Association Membership Software, Software for Nonprofits, Membership Management Software, Fundraising Software, Philanthropic Software, Software for Member Management, or even Engagement Management Software etc. the options are plentiful. In this article, we wanted to explore some reasons why nonprofit association management software may fall short of meeting expectations.
When Database Software May Suck!
For those starting a nonprofit, the good thing is there are many database options. The bad thing for those who have been searching is that there are many options too! As one Nonprofit Executive recently told with disbelief and a sense of bewilderment:
” Why are there so many systems, does all the software designed for nonprofits suck? Or, are they all just terrible?”
My answer was an emphatic “No!”. There are actually a considerable amount of good commercially off the shelf software options for all sizes of nonprofits today. The challenge is that unless the people, processes, and technology are fit right even the best database can stink. And, a lot of success is dependent on the people, processes, experience involved in determining satisfaction with a particular solution. So, we agree that there are a lot of options designed for different nonprofit sectors, right?
No doubt, as a Nonprofit Executive today, you and your staff have many nonprofit software options. I know all too well. I have spent a large part of my software career personally reviewing hundreds of these systems and know their solution and teams members well. Suffice it to say, each and every one of these applications above come to the proverbial table with their own unique way of providing an online database which was designed to solve the needs of nonprofit organizations. It simply takes some time to figure out your “unique” needs and then determine which is best suited.
When May a Database Suck….The Top 10 List
If you get focused on searching for the best software today, you will certainly “google” your way to a perpetual beating. Or, you may have found a plethora of feedback (good and bad) on various software review sites which has you either shaking your head to agree or disagree with the submitters. The reality is that anyone of these membership database software or donor software programs can potentially be perceived as sucking, stinking, and being terrible by users:
Poor Fit: When they are not properly fitted to your specific requirements, staff, and resources.
Improper Goals: When the expectations are out of line with what the program was designed to solve.
Bad Implementation: When they are not implemented the right way.
Expectations: When the companies have unrealistic expectations & forget they are nothing but databases.
Awful Processes: When Nonprofit Executives, staff, and service consultants don’t reinforce the right processes.
Project Management: When companies don’t assign strong administrators or project management.
Out of Date: When Nonprofit Executives do not pay to stay up to date on the software (in the case of on premise options).
Staff Turnover: When there is staff turnover and there is no commitment to training of new hires.
No Standardization: When Nonprofit Executives don’t enforce rules for standardizing data input ongoing into the system.
No Integration: When the system isn’t used by everyone due to lack of integration, you will have shadow IT solutions and poor results.
The Complex Psychology of a Software Review
According to one report from Lehman Reports on membership software, clients remain only moderately satisfied with their current membership database software. This would support the perception felt by some that all nonprofit sucks. Right? But, I believe it’s important to take reviews and studies with a grain of salt. Word of mouth is subjective and sometimes knowing the context of a review (attitudes, experience, expectations, what was sold etc.) tends to make every opinion a little clearer. And, that’s challenging to do in any survey, review site, or conversation with a peer. So next time you are on getting a software recommendation from a friend, remember that too!
Most Membership Software, Donor Databases, & CRM Software Are Good
In the last 20 years in the software business, I have reviewed & interviewed many types of databases. As a result of my time in the software industry and nonprofit world, I am certainly more forgiving of bad perceptions and hearing of various software failures than many others. And, despite hearing many bad things over the years, I am still a firm believer in the value of databases (CRM, Donor, Membership etc.) which can and do help improve the lives of so many types of businesses.
As a result of this time in the market, I am more convinced that software success is usually found when paired with the best service and support from a reputable software vendor who is committed to the success of the client, focused on the industry, communicate effectively with their clients & consistently delivers results.
The secret sauce of software success is that Support Matters!
Folks, I am certainly not wearing rose colored glasses. Yes, any database or online membership website can be (become) terrible (even suck) if neglected or run in an ill-advised manner. Like any instrument used in the wrong way (knife, gun, or golf club) or provided to the wrong audience (child or responsible adult) they can and do go wrong.
If done well, software projects usually do not fail based on selection. If the database is fitted appropriately and placed in capable hands from a trusted vendor, database software can be a powerful tool for executing your mission and increasing your value to your donors and members.
Do you believe that your software sucks? Let’s talk, OK?
We can help determine if you may have some “fixable” problems or may need to sort through the options and be your guide in the selection process. Schedule your free consultation today.
Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind!