Top 10 Basics In Finding Your Best Database Fit

Database Software Fit for Membership Associations

Imagine if your staff, members, and volunteers actually used their CRM system, found it of value, and were able to trust it and embrace it! The staff’s day would be smoother, reports would be more accurate, and members would be happier and more successful. What if you could prove the value of such a database? In this article, I outline the basic needs to look for in a database to realize the hope of the outcome above.

10 Basics Needs In Database Fit

Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

You may recall that Maslow wanted to understand what motivates people. He believed that people possess a set of motivation systems unrelated to rewards or unconscious desires. Maslow postulated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs. When one need is fulfilled a person seeks to fulfill the next one, and so on.

Well, I believe that there are some parallels in this principle as it relates to the pursuit of finding the best fitted software too. I believe that a good membership management solution needs to be able to satisfy a set of basic functional requirements in order to become a true solution.

Certainly, you must be able to exceed “business as usual” (BAU) status. However, if your nonprofit is going to pay a significant amount of money on a new software solution, it better be able to do more than just BAU, right?

What are the basic needs? In my opinion, these are 10 basic needs in considering your next CRM database.

Database Features

When considering software for your nonprofit the features play a significant role, right?

But, for many, software feature lists are confusing to discern from one software vendor to the next during a demonstration.

Therefore, before going through demo after demo with various software vendors to determine basic database features, take some time to review, discuss, and formalize the standard features needed and wanted by your nonprofit.

Document each vendors features, descriptions, & depth. Then, store a cumulative tally of various aspects of each software. Finally, prioritize them.

This exercise will get your team up to speed on what to expect. And, save valuable time in the process.

Intuitive and Simple By Design

Don’t undervalue the importance of a tool that others find easy to use. A tool’s true power isn’t in flashy bells and whistles.

It is in empowering the people using the tool to do the best job they can do. The best tools institutionalize efficiency, and become part of the daily workflow of your team.

The best tools make it easier to do take actions that pay off!

Data Management: Easy In and Easy Out 

Some CRMs make it hard to get started and hard to get out. Look for a vendor focused on ease of importing data into the system initially. An open system is critical for many organizations today.

It’s important to test the validity of a systems openness. Therefore, check out their documentation and their list of software technology partners they work with to see credible examples of working well with others.

Finally, be sure that a vendor will help you migrate all your data without hassle if you decide to move to another system down the road.

Social Intelligence: Insightful Information 

A lot of customer relationship management software systems put a tremendous focus on structured data such as numbers and profile information. This is crucial, of course, but it’s not enough.

Unstructured data found in social media is also important too. Look for a solution that provides not just structured data, but insights that will help your staff understand their constituents behaviors, interests, and connections.

Let me elaborate.

Today, we all have a digital footprint. I believe that a system today should be able to provide social tracking features and allow you to view activity which your members are talking about in various public social communities like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Development officers and members directors alike understand that there are tremendous benefits from monitoring and interacting on social streams. In doing so, your organization can develop relevant, genuine relationships with new and existing constituents. But, also obtain verifiable data which can be used in many ways by marketing and communications.

Social channels provide points of commonality between members, answer questions, track behaviors and define interest levels. If your CRM doesn’t provide this, seek out a “point solution” to capture this ability.

Dashboards: Visual Representation of Data

Today’s tools should be suited to the needs of many stakeholders. Each user has different uses for data, different skill levels, and different ways of absorbing information.

Visualization is increasingly understood as crucial to adoption and efficiency. The brain perceives information visually much more easily than in plain data.

In short, a picture is worth a thousand spreadsheets!

Database Road Map: Designed to Grow with the Times

I believe that you need to understand both the maturation process of a software vendor. And, more importantly where they are headed too.

You’re placing your trust in a software vendor’s management to deliver not only today but long term too.  Their vision, execution, and engineering expertise is critical.

Examine where they’ve been, and how they articulate the way they’ll go forward.

Database: Safe & Secure 

Look for vendors that take the safety and security of your data seriously and have posted policies about technology issues.

A common concern of clients is whether their information is fully protected. Determining how data gets protected is of the utmost importance to providers as well.

There are many ways of securing data effectively: using a hierarchy system where top levels of security can access levels below them is one example. Isolating levels is also an option, only allowing access from particular users.

Reliability of the Software 

Service interruptions are expensive, inconvenient, and disruptive.

Any vendor should be able to tell you how much service interruption has occurred due to system outages, what the root causes were, and show how they were corrected.

In order to ensure this basic need, check the fine print on the hosting agreement.

Capacity of the Database 

In many instances, establishing the size of your constituent base influences the software price. And, that is fair.

Nonprofits tend to have large quantities of members and donors which are not active or prospects. So, be sure that when you do select software that you understand the cost considerations and storage thresholds of a vendor.

This basic need may be validated on either the license, hosting, or proposal from the vendor.

Affordable Database For Nonprofits 

I know what you are thinking. The budget is not a software feature.

But, let’s face it. Budget is always important to consider. And, there are plenty of choices to meet frugal budgets.

Not every company needs a $200,000 system with a 6-month implementation plan and long training ramps. There are solutions that provide speedy Return on Investment, and which can prove low Total Cost of Ownership even after a few weeks.

A palatable budget is a basic necessity which any software for you will need to provide.

Bonus: Customer Service, Support, Culture 

According to Maslow, we all have Love and belonging needs – friendship, intimacy, affection and love, – from work groups, family, friends, romantic relationships.

I believe that clients need to be loved by their membership software providers, again. Well, perhaps “like” would be the basic need. And, love would be the want.

Regardless, it doesn’t matter if you have the best software in the world. If you can’t find help when you need it, it’s not worth the investment. I have reviewed countless solutions over the years. And, the one overriding concern which I have with each new system that I review or software option used by my clients is “Support”.

A perfectly fit membership database solution will allow you to do more than the basics. It should offer the ability to open up the organization to your members online and open up alternative engagement channels such as social media.

The best fitted membership solution will be highly intuitive and easily adapted to handle the ever changing demands of your organization, your membership and the technology landscape within which it sits. The best fitted membership solution will be as relevant and powerful in five or ten years’ time as it is today.

So, there you have it. These are some of the most basic concerns when choosing membership management software.

As I wrote this, I remembered a saying which is so true from Bob Sullivan a long time proponent of CRM, who made a comment which has stuck with me. Here it is:

Companies are most successful when they recognize that CRM is not so much a destination as a journey.

It is so true. And, undertaking the trek alone to find the right fit is daunting to say the least.

Contact us to achieve the ideal solution for you and your members.


Like Thanksgiving, Finding The Best Software Is Unique For Every Organization

Nonprofit Software and Organizations are all Unique

Finding The Best Software Is Unique For Every Organization Too!

It’s Thanksgiving! It is that time of year when we are either heading off to the market (to pick up that forgotten item) or getting into a plane/train/automobileto visit our relatives to give thanks, spend time enjoying good food, games, and perhaps catching a couple of football games. In this article, I discuss what makes thanksgiving special for me and how focusing on what distinguishes your organization from others is imperative when evaluating software technology.

What Makes My Thanksgiving Special  

In our respective homes, the majority of Americans will enjoy Thanksgiving Day with Turkey. But, despite that one common staple, in many homes we all have something uniquely our own which accompanies the festivities.

It may be a special side item such as my favorites such as “Passion Fruit”, “Cornbread Dressing” (as opposed to Bread Dressing), or my moms “Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls” (Yep, that’s an actual item on the menu at the Stewart home).

Besides the food, it may even be a relative we see not enough and certainly the dynamics of everyone when they come together. For many families, that experience along with the food, can be a recipe in and of itself which drives us to partake in our special refreshment too!

Whatever it may be (people, food, or how we prepare it) there are certain item(s) which distinguishes your tradition from others and makes your Thanksgiving Holiday special in your own family tradition.

Your Organization is Unique Too

So what’s the point with regards to software technology for non profits? To the point, despite the entire country celebrating the Thanksgiving Holiday and likely consuming tons of Turkey, each family has something which makes our day “unique” or “distinguishes” us from other families celebrating this holiday.

Like families during the holiday, each nonprofit comes to the table every day with different people, processes, and traditions of serving their members or donors needs. In short, regardless of being classified as a nonprofit, each and every organization is comprised of different people, business process rules, constraints, biases, strategy, & missions for your organization.

Yes, there are literally thousands nonprofits in the United States. And, despite working with hundreds of nonprofits over the years, each and every time I visit a nonprofit I find something special about each and everyone which will ultimately dictate the proper solution required to be the best fit. Simply put, I focus on what distinguishes your plate from others.

First Things First in Your Search

Therefore, I encourage you too. The fundamental task which should be done first in the software evaluation process is to focus on an organization’s uniqueness. For many who are quick to react and have the “I need it now” approach this will be a hard piece of turkey to swallow for sure.

I understand for many this is counterintuitive and often difficult to do. But in order to truly be able to make a decision in the end, it’s imperative to focus on youand your organization first.

While assuming is not a good idea when dealing with software vendors and functionality, you can safely assume that you are different than similar nonprofits. And, I am here to testify to that fact as well.

Today, most organizations start with technology reviews or calling up peers rather than center their attention on themselves. Further, they start out by reviewing software demonstrations which certainly is a drain and cost center for all parties involved in the “demo days” approach to software selection.

And, one of the most common things I hear from executives, is that they spend countless and often useless time searching aimlessly watching webcasts online, virtual window shopping every vendor in the space, & focusing on price to determine their next software system.

Software Vendors are Unique Too! 

Throughout the years,  I have been through hundreds of software selection review projects. And, spent many hours with hundreds of software vendors too. And, as true as the fact that nonprofits are unique, software vendors are unique too. They come to the proverbial table with different ways they approach solving problems. And, despite some misconceptions they are not all turkeys either!

Having said that, I believe that there is a better way to assess and select software. The challenge is taking your uniqueness and matching it with the uniqueness of the software options. And, in order to do just that, your software selection project should start with a little soul searching led by a structured approach to software selection.

Smart Steps Before The Software Demos

In a SMART software evaluation process, it’s imperative before the demo days or vendor calls to first:

  1. Define who within your organization should be part of the shopping process.
  2. Define your timeline for evaluating, implementing, and launching the new system.
  3. Put together and prioritize a list of all requirements, wish list items, and goals that you hope the new nonprofit software will address. Make sure to clearly differentiate between the wish-list and the core needs.
  4. Consider your budget. While price is not the only factor, it certainly is a big one for many to come to grips with.
  5. Review all the software your nonprofit has in place now.
  6. Determine where you have been and why your arrived at this point.
  7. Define what you truly need in order to do better and reach your return on mission.
  8. Analyze how you may better leverage your strengths (people and processes).
  9. Refine your business processes where needed.
  10. Then, take some time to learn about the different software vendors that are in the market. Create a short list of vendors. Remember, this is the last point on the list for a reason!

This Thanksgiving we want every organization to be thankful that you chose the right software partner. And, know that not everyone has to live with a software turkey either!

Happy Thanksgiving! Be thankful for the important people in your lives, and enjoy those little things which distinguishes your plate from others on this special day of gratitude!

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.