Software ease of use like beauty is in the eyes of the beholder

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The Art of Rating Ease of Use of Nonprofit Association Management Software

The notion of “Software ease of use” is straight forward. It’s a no brainer to discern, right? If it meets “X” criteria, then it’s easy to use. Well, not so fast my friends. To further complicate the matter, what if you just read the following testimonials below on ReviewMYAMS.com (an awesome site for associations) or heard them from a peer during your software evaluation process? 
“I have used and researched other association software products and none are as easy-to-use or intuitive as “XYZSOFTWARE,” said Richard Gere, Executive Director, The American Gigolo Association of America. “I am a very satisfied customer. With XYZSoftware,  I can find what I need and move about the software with no problem”.
“What’s best about XYZSoftware is the ease of use,” said Brad Pitt, President, I AM The Man Association. “We can easily handle donations and pledges without any problems”.

While we have obviously made up the names here, the quotes are almost verbatim to the same ones heard all too often by Nonprofit Association Executives when the software is working for them. So, why would it be that the same software wouldn’t work for you? Or, viewed differently by another association. Before, we answer that question, let’s define “Ease of Use”. While it’s difficult to define , here are somethings to consider (a working definition) which we like to use to address the common feature request of “Ease of Use” when exploring new software options:

An easy-to-use Nonprofit Association Management software system is present when:ease of use in software for

  • Similar: The Nonprofit Association Management software system is familiar because it works as expected and similar to another tool which a user has experience. Ex. Like Word, Excel, Google Apps etc.
  • Clicks: The Nonprofit Association Management software system takes less time and fewer clicks to accomplish the goal at hand.
  • Automation: The Nonprofit Association Management software will take routine tasks and automate them for us.
  • Efficient: The Nonprofit Association Management software will allow the end-user (staff, donor, or member) to efficiently enter all of the vital information required with oversight.
  • Intuitive: The Nonprofit Association Management software system is intuitive and obvious in how a task can be performed.
  • Flexible: The Nonprofit Association Management software system easily maintains that data as your business changes. It’s flexible.
  • Extraction: The Nonprofit Association Management software system can quickly extract the vital information needed for reporting in a usable format.
  • Maintain: The Nonprofit Association Management software system is easy to deploy, enhance, update, integrate and maintain long term.

Of course, every good software sales vendor will tell you that his or her software is the easiest to use ever. Further, it’s very likely that they may be able to provide many testimonials from happy clients to that effect. So, back to the question at hand, “Why wouldn’t it appear easy for you, if someone else found it easy?” 

The point is this. “Ease of Use” is in the “Eyes of the Beholder”. In some cases, only a mother could love some of the crap found in the 1990 GUI of some outdated systems in the market today. To be sure, it’s not necessarily that the vendors are intentionally trying to trick or deceive nonprofits, but everyone has different levels of technical skill, knowledge, and prior experience that will impact how easy it is for them to use a piece of software. In other words, “Ease of Use” is subjective and influenced by a user’s prior experiences and expectations. 

Therefore, in order to determine if a particular software will be easy to use for your organization, we suggest taking some objective steps prior to the selection to do the following:

  • Trial: Select several typical tasks you want to do in the software and put it to the test. For Example, have a volunteer and staff person enter a member application online, finding and updating member profile information, go online and register for a self-service feature like registering for an event, paying dues, or buying something)
  • Documentation and Support: Provide your staff with whatever documentation is available – and let them contact the vendor’s technical support, just as they would in a real-life situation if they need too.
  • Ratings: Ask your staff to rate the ease of use of the system for each task on a scale of 1-10 based on the working definition found above.

Finally, we encourage our clients to document the software selection process. It’s one thing to remember why you selected one system over the other now, but it’s going to be even more important to remember why you selected the system even a year later when there is staff turnover, a new version has been updated, & a new board has been put in place. There version of the truth (Ease of Use) may be different than yours.

If and when you are embarking on your software selection journey to find “Easy to Use Software”, please give us a call. Remember, it’s free to make the call and visit with us, but costs a lot if you make a mistake.Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

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