6 Options to Consider for Software Advice

Nonprofit Software Advice

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?

Good Question!

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 key 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. 
  • 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. They are often referred to as General Practitioners which have a more holistic view of software selection, focus on requirements as the software selection guide and keen understanding of experts (service/software) in the market.

  • 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 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. So, 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.

We can help you find your voice and secure a nonprofit software solution!

The Secrets of Email Marketing Revealed by Informz Report

2015 Email Marketing benchmark report findings

For the fifth consecutive year, the Informz Association Email Marketing Benchmark Report has been released. In this article, I wanted to share what I found most interesting about the data uncovered in this very useful report.

What The Email Marketing Report Reveals

1st, this report is a very large sample. In fact, it’s a summary of email marketing metrics from over 1 billion sent emails in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom. Wow! 1 billion! The goal of the report is to offer key insights regarding how email receivers process what is sent to them.  And, also the findings from the report is certainly important and useful to non-profit organizations using email marketing for outbound marketing purposes and calls to action.

The Most Effective Time to Launch Email 

Understanding how subscribers interact with sent emails can be of aid in determining things such as how and when to launch a successful email campaign.  For instance, the report notes regarding delivery times that the time of day of emails does matter.  Emails delivered at night have the highest open rates, while emails delivered at midday have the highest click rates.  Interestingly, however, though the time of day affects both open and click rates, the day of the week does not seem to matter significantly.

Timing Matters in Email Marketing 

Regarding timing matters, the report also indicates that subscribers interacting with their email in the afternoon and evening hours are more likely to be opening emails on mobile devices.  Though that is true, a majority of readers prefer to use desktops when opening email.  In fact, desktop usage is the most frequently used email client method, as 37.92 percent of all emails are opened on a desktop.  Mobile usage dropped slightly from prior reported years, coming in at 38.07 percent.

The Importance of Subject Lines in Email Campaigns

Short subject lines of less than 40 characters are associated with a higher than average percentage of open rates.  This key information is useful for those crafting the wording of emails, as the goal is to catch the eye of the subscriber and encourage reading of the email.  60 percent of opened emails had reader engagement of greater than 10 seconds, indicating that if an email subject line is crafted carefully, a reader is considerably more likely to engage with the email.

Regarding engagement, when mailing size increases, it appears that reader engagement decreases.  This is significant for those crafting email messages as well.  The essential point seems to be that brevity is key.

The Frequency of Emails 

There is concern among those crafting campaigns that email frequency may be off-putting to subscribers.  How many emails is too many?  While the report indicates that 72 percent of subscribers are sent five or fewer emails per month, subscribers who were sent 6-10 emails per month had slightly higher open and click rates.  While shortening the email message has a positive effect, increasing the frequency of the message is also beneficial.

Know Your Supporters Personas 

While email length and volume is a component in subscriber engagement metrics, the most important consideration is still relevancy.  Those tasked with the job of creating email campaigns must ensure that the message is clear and compelling for the subscriber.  Understanding the way in which the subscriber interacts with email received aids in this process.  But ultimately, the single most determining factor to ensure success of any email campaign is its relevancy to its subscribers. Knowing your supporters personas & crafting messages with personalization of content seems to be king once again!

For additional information about email marketing and other technology matters of concern to your non-profit organization, please contact us.  We will be glad to share our expertise with you. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

2015 Email Marketing Report from Informz

What No One Tells You About Software Failures

The Costs of Making the Wrong Software Decisions

Implementing new software can be a sweet dream or a beautiful nightmare. The right system can be worth thousands to a non-profit business. In this article, I discuss how the wrong system can potentially put your business in the red and make you see red at the same time.

5 Byproducts of Poor Software Decisions

Here are 5 of the more noxious byproducts of software selection failures.

Software & Service Replacement Costs

This is likely the most anticlimactic downside but definitely number one on the list. The cost of the software subscription itself and the services associated with the start up. If the selected software doesn’t properly meet the needs of the organization, the frustration will build so much that a change will be made. It may come early on or later in the use cycle, but ultimately the price of the faulty software selection must be paid. You also need to factor in early contract termination costs if a multiyear agreement was signed. So, check your contract before looking for alternatives.

Dual Software Costs

One of the benefits of shifting your software to a new system is being able to shed the cost of the old system. If you pick suboptimal software, then the transition will not go smoothly, and you will be left with a duplication of costs, including duplicate admin costs, backup costs, disaster recovery costs, etc. This can drag on far longer than expected. I have seen some nonprofits keep old systems in place just to keep old historical data which can’t be brought into the new system. This is due to space limitations or even lack of import capabilities of the new system.

Retraining Costs 

It’s obvious that training is a critical part of rolling out a new system to end users. Not training people initially and long-term properly is a recipe for a software disaster. If and when a nonprofit needs to replace a failed donor database or membership software program, they need to bear the cost of retraining their employees in yet another software platform. And, one big oversight is employee fatigue – when employees get overloaded with too many new systems, and have too short a time to absorb the changes.

Upgrade Costs

Sometimes choosing the wrong system doesn’t mean you first have to scrap the system to lose money. Rather you decide to upgrade it, potentially to a software that is expensive and the software product still does not properly meet the needs. And, you have to continue working around the problems. These costs just keep on accumulating.

A recent article on CIO opines:

An organization may select the wrong version of the software. After encountering problems, the decision may be made to upgrade to the next product level. With SaaS, this can mean paying for unneeded functionality just to get a particular feature. For software in the data center, this can mean a complete upgrade. Upgrading will cost you time and money, and it is better to make the right choice in the first place. Being forced into an upgrade is not the way to obtain value.

Customer and Employee Satisfaction Costs

A nonprofit can’t respond to their members or donors as well as they could if their software did its job properly. With the wrong system, you find it takes longer for a response to their inquiries. Events are delayed or money is not collected. If problems persist, slowly members can turn to the competition for education or a better cause. Either way, this is the perception cost.

Recently, I worked with an organization who made the wrong decision. And, due to the fact the system could not handle purchase orders, they had to resort to their old event management solution to solve the problem. And, an extra $2,500 dollars later….Not good!

From an employee perspective, there are many satisfaction costs. The extra work is one cost. But, the cost is also felt personally by the backers of the failed system. It can be anything from being denied a promotion to being fired.

Now there are many other notable costs, but these are some obvious and not so obvious ones to consider. Suffice it to say, you need a good requirements list and the fortitude to make hard decisions to get it right. And, an even a little prayer also never hurts either!

Contact us if you would like to learn more about our software selection process and need help securing the right fit the first time. Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Free Membership Software Purchase Guide for Nonprofits