Top 10 Reasons Your Database Software May Suck?


Database Software for Nonprofits

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:

  1. Poor Fit: When they are not properly fitted to your specific requirements, staff, and resources.
  2. Improper Goals: When the expectations are out of line with what the program was designed to solve.
  3. Bad Implementation: When they are not implemented the right way.
  4. Expectations: When the companies have unrealistic expectations & forget they are nothing but databases.
  5. Awful Processes: When Nonprofit Executives, staff, and service consultants don’t reinforce the right processes.
  6. Project Management: When companies don’t assign strong administrators or project management.
  7. Out of Date: When Nonprofit Executives do not pay to stay up to date on the software (in the case of on premise options).
  8. Staff Turnover: When there is staff turnover and there is no commitment to training of new hires.
  9. No Standardization: When Nonprofit Executives don’t enforce rules for standardizing data input ongoing into the system.
  10. 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!


Free Software Advisement for Database Software

Grow some roots, Government Relations Software is Better for Advocacy


Grassroots software
Grassroots software options from SmartThoughts

Are you looking to do better at your Government Relations activities? Are your members or donors yearning to  have a legislative action center on your Organization’s Website? Need to move beyond those cluttered spreadsheets which is outdated?

Today, there are a plethora of Government relations software options to move you beyond spreadsheets and your old Rolodex which are very comprehensive to automate your government relations activities today. 

And, depending on your specific needs, you can get organized and agile and tap into the stream of data that’s out there and continually changing.

What do you need? The following is a sampling of what you can get:

  • Online Government Relations Database: A self-updating database of the U.S. House of Representatives, your state legislators, office and legislative committee staff. Use the database to generate reports for listings, merged mailings for email campaigns.
  • Online Grassroots Advocacy Database: A contacts grass-roots manager that you match with the membership or donor database. Filter, organize and generate listings for fundraising support.
  • Event and Congressional Staff Email Marketing: An email “blaster” that is compliant with ISP standards and won’t relegate your mass emails to the recipients’ junk file. This tool will allow you to store templates, do a good job with the visuals and keep track of bounces, open rates, click-through on embedded links as well as unsubscribers.
  • Legislative Tracking: A tracker for legislation that affects your organization. Need to plan your lobbying or ask your grass roots contacts to call their legislator about an upcoming vote? The tracker typically has the ability to predict how a particular legislator will vote based on his or her voting history.
  • Online Form for your members to report contacts with Legislators:  There are systems today which will provide online contact forms for your members to report their meetings and personal contacts with legislators. And, guess what? There is even your very own form designer so that you can create and maintain your own forms (Bye, Bye programmers!).
  • Fly In Management: An interactive and integrated private calendar and meeting journal. Schedule and coordinate meetings and events. Record attendees and enter critical notes and documents.  It offers solutions to the real problems that arise when planning and executing a successful event.

    Government Relations Software
    FLY In Management

Also, software as a service is the norm for most Government Relations Software programs today. In fact, you can find online subscription services that do most of the above, and include an advocacy section to your organization’s website on a beer budget!

Whether you’re tracking a grant, eagerly eyeing important legislation or just keeping up with your grass-roots donors and legislators, you no longer need to depend on legacy desktop software like access/spreadsheets or mind-numbing web searches.  And, yes, many of the systems available today will integrate nicely with most Association Management and Donor Management systems.

Contact us. We can help you find and adopt the government relations software you’re looking for today! 

How much should you pay for Association Nonprofit Software

How much should you pay for Membership Software today?

How much does AMS membership software cost? And, how much should we budget?

In this article, we wanted to explore the money questions we get quite a bit from nonprofit and association executives.

From our experience, Nonprofit Associations are very good about benchmarking. In a sector where donors and members scrutinize where the money is going, benchmarking is used with success. If a nonprofit doesn’t benchmark outcomes, there is certainly a third-party agency which likely is!

The Study Cited for Membership Software Budget 

Recently, we reviewed a study conducted by Clifton Larson Allen on behalf of the Texas Society of Association Executives (a wonderful resource!). The “Texas Associations Matter” study outlined the economic impact which nonprofit associations have on the Texas economy. Further, the comprehensive study outlined the specific demographic details of the roughly 1,900 organizations in the state. Here are some takeaways from an IT software perspective which may help all nonprofits in every state answer the questions above:

  • Small associations (less one million in revenue) represented 71% of the total association nonprofits in Texas
  • Across all association size classes (Small, Midsize, Large) each year associations in the state of Texas spend about 3% on technology and web expenses
  • Small Associations (less than 1 million in revenue) on average spend about 5% on technology and web expenses

Apart from the mere fact that everything is bigger in Texas (You know we are still a Republic, right?), if you believe in the value of benchmarking data, this study suggests that you should at a bare minimum be spending 3% of your operating budget a year on software technology for your nonprofit association.

I would like to stress this at a minimum. Because, in order to truly keep up it will be important for your organization to consider spending more. You must consider going beyond the averages to excel and grow. Nonprofits and Associations are competing with so many entities today for mind share and remaining viable. It’s not enough just to “keep up” with the “Joneses’ of the Nonprofit Community”. Rather, moving forward into the 21st Century executives are going to have to think of new ways to grow and attract new members/donors in ways that they have never imagined. And, technology will be a big part of helping in that effort.

What Should you Budget for Membership Software? 

In the book, “Race for Relevance, 5 Radical Changes for Associations“, the author, Harrison Coerver, underscores the point that Associations will need to invest more in the future to remain relevant. In essence, he believes that conventional wisdom of the old guard must change in order to adapt to the “new frontier” of associations.

The conventional approaches and paradigms of yesteryear no longer fit in an environment that’s been fundamentally and irreversibly changed. Harrison also stresses that technology (web and software combined) will quickly become an integral component of an associations functioning and performance. And, to realize this will require a major shift in the mindset of association nonprofit executives across the board to truly embrace technology rather than begrudgingly invest in it. In short, he says that your “spend” should be in the range of 8% to 10% of total revenue to remain competitive.

Just to reiterate, this is double what is transpiring now in the great state of Texas. And, I would venture to assume that other states are similar if not less in spend than Texas. Wouldn’t you?

So, how much should you budget on your website, information technology and nonprofit association software?

Where is the lovely sweet spot?
How much is enough?

Well, in most expert opinions, your nonprofit needs to spend at least the minimum but even more should be considered to grow and remain relevant.  But, the answer for your particular organization will vary. Hopefully, this information can be used as a discussion point to put some perspective on your next budget meeting for information technology. As we stress quite a bit here, it is important to set realistic expectations.

The good news for most forward thinking nonprofits is that most systems today are in the reach of even the smallest nonprofits. The key is finding the right one for you based on all factors involved including a realistic budget.

If you need help auditing your needs or gaining some consensus on software choices, please reach out to us. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind!

Free Membership Software Purchase Guide for Nonprofits