Pursuing The Mythical Software Unicorn

The Best Software for Nonprofits is like searching for a Unicorn In 1997, I began my career in the enterprise software industry. During that time, I have seen many new features, trends, and software companies come and go. In this article, I will share briefly my personal journey in the search for a perfect solution, the software unicorn, and my relentless pursuit to assist my clients with selecting the best software fit for their respective organizations.

The Journey to Find the Best Nonprofit Software 

Can You Handle the Truth?

Yes, thank you very much Tom Cruise (from his famous line in A Few Good Men), I want the truth. And, I feel like I can handle the truth too. In my job, I am continually evaluating software options for my clients and have committed myself to finding the best software solutions on the market today. During this time, I have not limited my software search to the lesser known software vendors. Rather, I have an open mind and actually am intrigued by both the mature software players who have put out good software products for years and equally new software players which have recently come into the market to build a “Better Mouse Trap”.

In my mind, every application software player may be a possible candidate for an organization’s “Software Unicorn”, the perfect fit. I believe that organizations who embark on a software selection journey should seek “Awesome Results”. And, I begin each software selection project with excitement in hopes of finding that particular software solution (product and services) which is just the right match. I still have this excited feeling even though I know perfection or the “Best Software” isn’t usually one particular software option each and every time. I know the truth.

What is the Best Software Fit for Nonprofits?

As stated, I am relentless in my pursuit to help my clients find a solution which truly meets their requirements and business objectives. Even though it’s not perfect, a “Software Unicorn”, we always seek a solution which will solve key business challenges. And, even neutralize some of their poisons in the work environment (Ex. lack of efficiency, lost revenue, losing supporters). The idea of “The Best Software“, a Software Unicorn, is a futile pursuit.

Yes, after reviewing literally hundreds of software vendors and devoting countless hours researching vendors, interviewing them, writing product reports, and sitting through countless demonstrations, there is no such thing as the mythical “Software Unicorn” nor a software which can take a prize for “The Best” in every use case. The Best Software for Nonprofits is unique to every organization.

Despite similar duties and roles, every organization is unique. Conversely, so too is every software product & vendor. Yes, there is a “Best Software Fit” for my clients, but there isn’t one and only “Best Software” which solves everyone’s problems all the time. There is a distinction between the two. And, that truth or knowledge is sometimes painful for executives to come to grips with. Especially when so much money and risk is at stake to get “The Best Software”. There will be work to do to make the software the “Best for You”.

There is App for That!

Unfortunately and fortunately, in the last five to seven years, personal productivity applications and easy to create websites have proliferated. Everyone has the ability to get “that application” for this and that. For that reason, I believe because we know that technology is accessible, affordable, & easier for the almost anyone there has to be an enterprise software which is just like that too.

In essence, our thirst has been “teased” with the “possibilities” of what we have experienced (the Amazon Experience) so our desire for “more” keeps us pursuing the elusive “Software Unicorn” to help rid us of futility, poisons, & pain in our day-to-day jobs. I believe that in many cases this has perpetuated the myth to some extent.

The Pursuit of Finding “The Best Software”

I am amazed by how many CRM, Membership Management, Donor Databases and Marketing Automation Software solutions are on the market today. The reality is that many are very capable. Unlike most sane adults, I love researching software platforms. Even more, I enjoy reviewing solutions which truly solve business problems. Whether it be helping with the use of non-transactional data or how we can capture and use transactional data to make better decisions, the benefits of technology abound. That is exciting. I truly find myself sometimes getting lost in exploring software systems.  But, since software selection is our primary service, it’s valuable for my clients too. It truly pays to discover!

But, I Still Haven’t Found What I Am Looking For

Very early on in my career, I questioned whether or not clients failed because they didn’t or had not found the “Perfect Software”. In some cases, they do fail. However more often than not, I realize now that failure is not in “not” finding the “Perfect Software” but rather not finding the “Perfect Fit In A Solution”.  To reiterate, an evaluation based on seeking perfection is a flawed misconception. Rather, “Awesome” comes in selecting you organizations “Best Fit”. It’s so critical to first seek “must haves, goals, and priorities”.

In so many levels, it is a waste of time for all parties involved if you start with vendor identification (doing demos) rather than looking first at your organizations uniqueness first. A search based on features and functionality rather than end goals and metrics of success will lead to a “Perfect Failure”. If you still haven’t found what you are looking for, you likely don’t know what you need or require to be an “Awesome” fit for you. Further, the lack of defining your aspirations will paralyze your organization’s abilities to make a decision too. Resulting in lost opportunities, frustration, and usually a hasty decision in the end. Should You Give Up The Myth? Absolutely not!

It’s prudent to reach for the stars. Your organization should aspire to obtain the “Smartest Fit” based on your overall goals as an organization. Your organization should also take the time to prioritize them too because at the end of the search you will need to make a decision. And, without firm needs documented you will have a tougher time making that final decision.

The Myth of the Software Unicorn; It is Not An Animal, It is A Human Being

One final word on the myth of the Software Unicorn. Contrary to the prevailing perception of many executives searching for software today, the best cannot be found in just features, functions, or roadmaps. Nope, the myth is not an animal, a unicorn. Human beings who work at software providers as much or more than anything else impact software success. The myth is that the software product is all that matters. Unfortunately, human beings are often underestimated in the search for “The Best Software for Nonprofits”.

If you take nothing else away from this article, please make note of this. Software is written by people for people. Support, Service, and a deep commitment by both client and vendor to solve your key problems (documented early on and measured) will be the key to realizing your elusive and mythical unicorn. After years on my personal and professional journey to find that mythical “Software Unicorn” there is no truer statement than “Success can be found in the Partners You Choose”.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind. Software reviews for Nonprofits

The Best Membership, Donor, CRM Software! Really?

The Best Membership Software|CRM|Donor|Databases|The Prob with Lists

What is the Best Membership Software, Donor Software, or CRM Software for Nonprofits? I field this type of question all the time. And, as the saying goes, “If I had a dollar every time I have heard it, I would be a rich man”. So, in this article, I am not going to provide yet another software list. Rather, a rant on the whole notion of “Best of Software Lists”.

What is the Best Database Software for My Nonprofit?

First, a quick story. My 7 year old son loves to play the Madden 15 Ultimate Team on Xbox. And, if you are not familiar with the video game, the goal is to win, of course. But, in order to win, you must build a professional football team comprised of the best players (both current and past). That said, my son often asks to know my opinion about great players for various positions. He wants to know who is “The Best”.

And, my reply is a variation of the following:

Well, that’s a tough question son. The game was different from decade to decade. The system impacted success greatly. And, the coaching certainly enhanced personal and group success. For example, the Dallas Cowboys of the 90’s had the “Triplets”. Michael Irvin (WR), Troy Aikman (QB), & Emmitt Smith (RB) were very good football players. But, the system and coaching truly made the trio awesome together. But, had they each been on a different team, different era, or were asked to do different things, they may not have been so good.

Besides, I rate “Best Players” based on their team success. And, did they help win big games? And, my rating is not objective (now try explaining that to a 7-year-old!). But, let’s look at who you have, what are the options, and then let’s figure out how the game rates the “Best”. From there, we can work with that to figure out how to win your game.

The Ultimate Software Choice?

So, what does my son’s “Ultimate Team” have to do with selecting the best software for your nonprofit? Well, let me explain. My son’s question is similar. He wants to win. He wants a quick answer. And, he wants someone with experience to help him.

With software decisions, most executives simply want a quick answer and oh by the way they want to win too. Unfortunately, one of the challenges with making a software decision is that it’s not a cut and dry scenario, it’s a much more impactful choice, there is no universal scoring system, and everyone’s definition of “winning” is different.

The Psychology of Best Of…

It seems that we are bit fixated on “Best Of Lists”. So, in my thirst for the truth I wondered if there were any psychological principles which explain the need by humans to know what is the best? And, after a review of various psychology authorities, here are a few explanations I surmised on why “Best of lists” are so interesting and prevalent:

  • It’s about helping ourselves.
  • It’s about having an “expert” help us.
  • It’s about helping each other.
  • It’s about helping us compare.
  • We are easily manipulated.
  • We don’t always act in our own best interest.

We love to compare. The need to compare is human nature. In fact, we will go so far to rationalize differences even if there is absolutely nothing different between two objects. Recently, I had the chance to watch a program illustrating that psychological truism. Watch this fascinating video clip below which underscores this point:

Software Buyer Beware of the Best of Lists!

Generally speaking, I believe that “Best of Software Lists” are flawed, usually biased, and tend to be manipulated (not generally with a nefarious intent) information which should at a minimum be used with caution. As my Grandmother often said, “The pathway to hell is paved from men with good intentions”. Well, this may hold true for those responsible for many of these “Best of Lists” on the internet today.

Two Reasons to Punt the Best of Lists

Let’s take a look at one example. I used Google to search for “Best CRM Software for Nonprofits”. Do that search now, if you would like to follow along.

And, on the first line of the search results is from a site which provides their list of 3 options specifically designed for nonprofits. Here they are: Zoho, Vtiger, Microsoft Dynamics. Now, these options are all good Customer Relationship Management Software in the right environment. But, Really! I could go on and on here with all the “wrongness” with the results of this list. But, let me tackle two points with brevity.

First, what type of nonprofit are we ranking a solution for here? There is not one type of nonprofit. In fact, there are many different types of nonprofits such as charitable, churches, associations, faith-based, schools, recreation centers, arts and cultural, museums, etc. which all have different business functions, strategies, and needs. And, for certain very unique missions.

Second, what is the rating based on? There is no mention of how most lists are determined. You would hope at a minimum that some “evaluation” or “criteria” would be provided. But, even with some basis for their ratings this can still be meaningless data. For example, one software advice organization provides a “Best of Membership Software List” based on popularity measured by a combination of their total number of customers, members managed, and online presence. Really!

Suffice it to say, if you are into “Best of Software Lists” you will find a plethora of options to review on the web today. And, as many as there are, you will find as many opinions of who is #1 through #20 as well. The lists are subjective. And, at a minimum best of lists lack any true value in providing assistance in answering the ten million dollar question, “What is the best software for my nonprofit?”.

How do you find the Best CRM Software for Nonprofits?

In my opinion, business requirements are to software selections as foundations are to a home. If they aren’t right, there will be major problems. Further, if organizations don’t know what they want, how will they know when they find it? You won’t successfully be able to! It stands to reason the better the requirements are, the less risk of selecting the wrong database software product.

Going back to the question which led us here. What is the Best Membership Software, Donor Software, or CRM Software for Nonprofits? And, my answer is somewhat similar to my reply to who is the best player for my son’s “Madden 15 Ultimate Team”. Here it is:

First, your question should not be solely product focused. Rather, the question should be, “Which software program is best for my nonprofit organization (our culture, our budget, our processes, our people, and our goals and objectives)?”.  Adjust your question slightly and enhance your outcome exponentially. The ultimate product selection is as unique as a finger print for most. To be sure, there is no magical “perfect fit” cinderella shoe to place on here. Step away from basic software features (early on in the search), and rather focus your time on how a particular solution (software & support) will most completely help your nonprofit achieve your unique strategy & mission (winning the game).

I believe there is a better way than “Best of lists” or “15 minute Free Calls” to find the smarter choice for you. Ultimately the software selection comes down to this: how do you measure the gap between your particular requirements and potential software products? Nothing is perfect! And, certainly don’t be so easily swayed by the temptation of “Best of Lists” published by various sources on the internet!

Are you currently seeking the best software option for your nonprofit? If so, please give us a call. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

 We discuss how to find the Best Donor CRM Software for Nonprofits