Top 10 Questions You Should Ask On A Software Reference Call

Top 10 Super Smart Questions to ask of a software reference

Ok, Nonprofit Association Executives. It’s down to the wire in your search for the best damn Nonprofit Donor Database Software system in the land. You have dotted your “I’s” and crossed your “T’s”. It’s for certain  you have done your due diligence and finally your nonprofit is down to the last choice. In this article, we tackle the purpose of a software reference call, who you should talk too, and the top questions to ask too.

Purpose of the Software Reference Check 

I believe that it’s important to note that the reference check is one of the last steps before negotiating the purchase. The purpose of the reference check is to provide an audit of sorts on what the vendor has stated that they “can” do. In other words, the reference check is to find out if things are not what they seem such as was the purchase in line with expectations, any unexpected surprises, warnings to know about before implementing, or perhaps recurring issues that may be stated.

Who Should You Talk Too In A Software Reference Call 

It’s important to visit with relevant references. Here is what I suggest on who you should visit with on a reference call:

  • If possible, with context that is similiar to your situation. In other words, if you are a museum, talk to museums using the software too. You also should desire to have a conversation with somone who has the software at least 6 months and not more than three years too.
  • While not always feasbile within the nonprofit software sale situation, if you have a choice you want to talk with several different titles on reference calls. You may want to ask for the Executive Sponsor, the development officer who was in charge of the implementation, and perhaps someone who has specific experience in a high priority area for the software you desire such as Grants Management.
  • As a nonprofit you don’t have an unlimted budget for IT, do you? Of course not. So, references should have a similiar level of IT support that your organization has in place too.

Super Smart Questions to Ask on a Software Reference Call

So, what do you ask a reference to be sure that what you need mirrors your goals and requirements which are important?

To that question, we have come up with some questions to aide in the process for your nonprofit in this situation. Below is a list of valuable questions you should always ask during a reference call.

what to ask on a reference call

  1. What is your role in using the Nonprofit software database system? Ex. Primary User, Project manager, Support person.
  2. Were you the decision maker responsible for purchasing the last Nonprofit CRM?
  3. If you were involved, what made you choose the solution you selected?
  4. How long did it take you to do high priority functions? Ex. Sending an email to your donors or setting up events for the conference? Ask what is most important to your nonprofit.
  5. How long did it take to get your data migrated?
  6. How complete is the integration with Accounting? How hard was it to set up and maintain? Dues Billing?
  7. Have you seen an increase in efficiency since you implemented the nonprofit association management solution?
  8. How long did it take before you began to see a return on your investment?
  9. What’s the single best thing about the system? What is the worst thing?
  10. When implementing, did you incur any costs in addition to the price of the solution?

Ok, we couldn’t get it down to 10, sorry! So, here are several bonus questions for ya’ll:

  1. Did the vendor offer to give you anything in return for being a reference? How often are you used as a reference?
  2. Can you tell me about your experience with implementation and support? What went well? What would you do differently?
  3. If you went to another company, would you absolutely buy the same system again or would you look to see what else is available?

Closing Thoughts on Software Reference Checks 

References should be respected. They are taking time out to help you. So, I believe it should go without saying but it’s important to be respectful. Here are some ideas to do that:

  • Be sure you are talking to the right person
  • Schedule your call via email.
  • Send out questions before the call to minimize the time on your call.
  • Stay on track with the time that they provide to you.

If you have any insights into other questions which may help the community. Please share below.

Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind!

We provide a free document outlining the key questions to ask of a software reference

A Business Intelligence Strategy Helps Associations Succeed

 Isn't it time you found Business Intelligence software is needed to succeed?
As a Nonprofit Executive, your intelligence has to shine through the data you store in your donor, member, and/or events database. In this article, we wanted to explore the important aspects of business intelligence and how it can be viewed in nonprofits today.

 How often do you ask “What if” & scramble to find the answers? 

For forward thinking organization, when an association wants to know more about its critical operation, “THE WHAT IF”,  it will utilize various report writers to mine the data they have.  In most cases, a lot of massaging and even praying is involved, right? Often times (hopefully not today in your nonprofit) business intelligence information is delivered by spreadsheets, charts, graphs and more. Thankfully, today there are key  interactive features of business intelligence found today in most Association Management platforms designed for use in various ways including mobile devices.  According to an article  in CIO magazine, “BI should be sponsored by an executive who has bottom-line responsibility; has a broad picture of the enterprise objectives, strategy and goals; and knows how to translate the company mission into key performance indicators that will support that mission.” Generally speaking, the business intelligence software found in donor databases and membership systems will provide a basic understanding of your information assets and more possessed by the nonprofit. But, do you have confidence in the data? Do you know how to utilize the data to make sense of it? Does your organization have time to actually collate and make sense of it? Here are several considerations to chew on when thinking about business intelligence and utilization of it:

Goals Are Important here too!


A company needs to set goals and understand what they want from their database. After analyzing current operations a business intelligence plan with specific goals can be designed. Here is a funny depiction of the challenges today:

Are you lost and trying to find answers in your database? We can help connect you with solutions.

Data Agreement 

Continuous study and intelligent understanding of your organizational data empowers your entire management team. When a company is pursuing BI it needs to have all elements of the business in agreement of what it means to them. If the member department and finance department have two different understandings of what is defined as net gain, their numbers for the same item won’t match. This can be handled by a uniform set of definitions utilized by all sections of the business.

Member and Engagement Data Storage

Many companies start out today with a database which is cost-effective but can’t grow and change with the company. In essence, they move into an “Apartment” solution and grow into a new “Home”. A company needs to determine if they have a storage problem, a software report writer problem, or some other issue keeping them from obtaining the information they require to run their business better.  Suffice it to say, a data warehouse is challenging to design but many nonprofits today have a member or donor database. And, a database with a report writer, theoretically, is all an organization needs to start acting on the intelligence you have curated over the years.

Time and Expertise

As stated by Bear Analytics, a provider of data intelligence services, “Data is your organizational DNA”.  Your organization must get the most out of it’s data. For a nonprofit, this could include such things as revenue forecasting, member forecasting, attendee forecasting, & engagement knowledge and more.  But, like most nonprofits resources are limited in two critical areas: staffing and time. Because of this limitation, collecting, organizing and analyzing information often does not get adequate attention. Time, Expertise, and focus is paramount to find success in business intelligence.  If you are having a difficult time getting the data you need to make pin pointed decisions from your database system, perhaps it’s time to review a better way.

Contact us today and learn more about the solutions available and partners you need to succeed with your data today. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.



We do not sell software, we listen, and solve problems!

The Value of Using Association Membership Software

the value of #membershipsoftware

What should you expect in terms of ROI for your Association Membership software?

Association Management Software (AMS) is absolutely necessary for every member based organization. Any association executive who has spent hours dredging through piles of paper for event registrations or who has updated a members contact information in a number of different places will love Association Management Software. The key is finding the right fit for you.

The Value of Membership Software 

It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Association Management Software has many capabilities that will keep an association organized and running like a well-oiled machine.

Association Management Software will help with everything from event planning to tracking e-commerce so that staff employees can focus more on the members or donors and less on the member data information updates or donor financial processing.

Association Management Software is huge in the world of small or larger associations. Typically, an association (like all businesses) have very little manpower and a small pool of funds with which to pull in new employees or volunteers. Hiring an employee to update the databases, plan the events and follow the e-commerce or donations just isn’t economically feasible. Therefore, an existing employee is charged with the duty, on top of the normal duties of his or her job title. This quickly leads to burn out and disgruntled employees.

Most associations software tools today are accessed via a web browser, therefore, any employee or volunteer can grab the information at any time/anywhere. And, your members can have access to the information on-line as well only adding to the value of the expenditure. The tool can become the foundation for all aspects of your business today; website, database, communication tool, government relations, eCommerce, Events, Billing, Orders, etc.

Why Should you consider Membership Software?

Why wouldn’t every association (small, medium, large) have one integrated association membership software platform? Good Question!

Perception is often the enemy. Many old school executives are living in the past. We often hear phrases such as “I am too small for that” or “AMS software is too expensive”. However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth in today’s technology world. The cost of the typical Cloud based association management tool can be as low as $ 100 a month per user (staff).

Key Value Areas of Membership Software

This small investment greatly outweighs the labor costs of hiring an employee, the overtime costs associated with piling extra work onto an existing employee, redundant data entry from one system to another, or the poor perception of your members without the capability of offering 24/7/365 days service. With this acquisition of technology, you can realistically see the benefits of:

  • Reduced Labor Costs
  • Improved Staff Time and Productivity
  • Increased Revenue Opportunities
  • Improved Customer Service and Satisfaction
  • Enhanced insights for better decision making

As an executive at an association, it’s imperative that you have a membership software program that will work for you in this day in age. We encourage your board to take the step to investigate the right solution for your particular needs.

SmartThoughts can help you determine whether or not obtaining an Association Management Software platform is right for your organization. A small investment now will pay off through money earned over time. It’s up to you. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Free Membership Software Purchase Guide for Nonprofits