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

Playing Tug of War in your Software Search?

Nonprofit Software searches are dynamic. We explore the dynamics of groups here.

Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” In my experience, nowhere is this truer than when working with a group in software selection. In this article, I explore the facets that “group dynamics” play in the search for nonprofit software.

“A review of the impact of group dynamics in software searches”

Years ago, I read an article in Moneywatch on group dynamics which suggests these tips for a productive group which seemed to resonate with me. Here are the major tips:

1. Set clear goals for the group.
2. Express your confidence in the value of group work.
3. Encourage each participant’s contribution.
4. Always remember to say thank you.

Further, according to one publication, each group member’s behavior can serve as a trigger to another’s behavior. No doubt that groups are a practical way for accomplishing tasks and solving problems. However, before you embark on “The Search” for software you need to know that your group assembled will require preparation and leadership to be successful. Below you will find five tips for minimizing the “Tug of War” aspect of software selection from my vantage point.

Know what must be accomplished

This topic was covered previously in another article but is worthy of a repeat. The group needs to know what the desired goals are in the pursuit of new automation. Without a shared goal, the group will get lost in the search. The group must collaborate to agree on the metrics which they will determine is success. And, then get realistic with your expectations, you won’t get everything.  Sorry!

Know your group

The culture of an organization influences the attitude of the group members. And depending on the role each participant plays in the group, it can be difficult to foster compromise and reach consensus. Group members can become competitive and territorial. It is important to observe body language and understand silences.

Know your audiences specific needs

These needs affect every member of the group. For example, the non-profit with an ineffective process for tracking memberships and conference enrollments will be looking for software that solves those problems–problems that affect the workday of each member of the group. Focus on these issues and work for buy-in from group members.

Know how to encourage common ground 

Demonstrate how each need can be met and encourage discussion and questions. It’s important that everyone knows that they won’t get every need met. Expectations need to be set that the organization is the most important aspect of the journey. It’s not one department which is going to use the enterprise software systems in place today. In other words, Membership, Events/Meetings, Development, IT, Executives, and your customers all are stakeholders.

Know how to make a decision 

Strong leadership supported by management will help group dynamics in making decisions. Also important to understand is workers who perform repetitive tasks in their jobs are averse to change. And, yes, the Executive Director and CEO of the organization need to play a big role in the decisions and software selection process! I am not a big fan of “voting” by consensus for the decision. Rather, I believe that boards place Executive Directors and CEO’s in charge for a reason, and they should with good counsel be prepared to make the final decision. They are the leader in pushing the objectives forward for the organization.

Finally, at the start and along the way a carrot needs to placed before the group. In other words, every participant needs to know why your going to change software systems and what are the metrics the organization and the key stakeholders (staff, constituents, board) hope to achieve. Knowing the specifics of how new software will make your lives easier will motivate everyone to participate constructively and enhance their willingness to buy in. And, know that the carrot needs to stay present throughout the selection, implementation, and usage of software. Therefore, during your “group pre-planning”, decide early on how your going to keep the momentum during the project and plan for it!

If you are searching for new technology or would like to explore how to improve your organizational efficiency in software selections, please contact us. We would enjoy helping.

Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.Nonprofit Software Dynamics play a role in the decisions for your organization.  Be smart.




Top 10 Actions To Do To Avoid Software Selection Anxiety

10 Tips For Nonprofit Software Decisions

Top 10 Items to Consider To Avoid Anxiety in Software Searches 

We know! There are simply too many membership management and donor database software choices on the market today. The human brain is just not equipped to process an overload of information. And, having an abundance of software options for your nonprofit may actually cause anxiety.

When it comes to making decisions about procuring or upgrading technology, software selection anxiety can be an enormous issue. The more staff members who are involved, and the longer the process takes, the more negatively software selection can impact an organization. In our opinion, the key to avoiding software selection anxiety is to know what matters most, before beginning the buying process.

In other words, don’t go shopping without a clear list of priorities. That noted, here are the top 10 quick suggestions before you “google” your way to a new software option:

  1. Know Your Business Functions: What exactly will this software be used for? Having a list of functions that the software must perform will limit the choices from the start. Ex. I need a system which will handle recurring drafting. I need a system which can handle Purchase Orders.
  2. Is Scalability Important?: Look for software packages that can grow with the organization. If a big expansion is planned in the future, the software must be able to handle the changes.
  3. Understand Your Key Performance Reports: What kinds of reports are needed to make informed decisions? New software must be able to create them.
  4. How important is Security?: How sensitive is the data? Software must have adequate security features to meet the organization’s needs.
  5. Does reliability matter?: Stability is important. Look for software with an excellent track record for reliability.
  6. Who Needs to Use the system? Ease of Use and knowing how many people will be using the system is important. Therefore, take this into account when assessing software. If only a handful of technologically savvy staff will use the software, that’s one thing. But if every staff member and volunteer will be using it, then the interface needs to be easy to learn and easy to use.
  7. Where do users reside? Will this software reside on a few workstations in one location, or will staff members need access from anywhere? Cloud based systems are the norm today but there are still systems which are not!
  8. What is a realistic budget? How much can the organization afford? Calculations should include any hardware upgrades that will be needed to run the software (if applicable). Once there is a firm budget number, this could narrow the choices considerably. You need to have a good starting point.
  9. Any recommendations?: Consult with other organizations that have similar needs. Go to a review site laser focused on the type of software you are searching for like ReviewMyAMS.com. With this information, you will benefit from your peers who may have been through the same process recently and have useful information to share.
  10. Do you need expert Advice? Seek counsel from a software adviser who can help sort through the noise and act as your guide through the process.

Is software selection anxiety impacting your organization? If so, please contact us to find out how we can help or schedule a call now for our “Free Software Advisement” offer by clicking the Learn More button below.