Best Tip Ever: Get and Stay on top of your Software Training

Happy Software Customers are usually trained customers.  We outline benefits and type of software training options.

For a non-profit organization, especially a smaller one, the initial expense connected with database software for nonprofits  appears as a prohibitively exorbitant expense on the balance sheet. However, this is especially true if no one on the staff or among the volunteers knows how to use the software. And, relying on learning it by the trial and error method isn’t smart either. In this article, I outline why training your staff on software is one of the best investments you will make and likely help you avoid failure with it.

The Pain, Value and Options for Software Training

While choosing the best software for your non-profit is important, even the best Nonprofit CRM Software in the world will not help without software training geared toward helping you accept, understand, and fully utilize that software. In most software searches, a smart non-profit considers software training as a part of the line item cost when deciding to implement new software. For most, initially it’s easy to see that the time and expense of training the staff using the software is easily justified by the lack of frustration and lower rate of user error. But, let’s discuss the good and bad of not staying on top of it for others.

The Pain of Bad Training 

But, what truly sets the “Best Software” from others is due in large part to a lack of knowledge about how to use it or not knowing what they already have. Nothing is more frustrating than an entire weeks worth of data entry lost due to operator error. It is very disheartening if a staff (or even volunteer) is the one who loses an entire list of donor or member information because it was input wrong. The tendency when these types of frustrations mount is to abandon the software no matter the cost outlay and chalk it up to an expensive lesson learned. And, that’s certainly not smart!

The Value of being Trained Well

The greatest cost of software is when it doesn’t work. With well-trained users (all stakeholders), the cost/benefit return time shortens considerably. When the software for donor development and tracking is working optimally the non-profit sees an immediate return on investment in donations that are easier to track, quicker response to requests for subscription, and greater contact with lapsed donors thus keeping them from falling through the cracks. Further, when fundraising software works well and staff or volunteers know how to use it optimally, it can potentially pave the way for a smoothly run fund-raising campaign. And, the stress level lowers because the software is doing work that in the past had been allotted to multiple people, now frees up those people to do other tasks.

The Types of Training Options

With that in mind, there are several kinds of software training options available, depending on the number of employees or business partners you need to train, and on factors such as their availability and technical expertise. Here are a few options you will want to consider:

  1. Train the Trainer. Depending on the nature of your non-profit, you may have already utilized a train the trainer program in other ways. Perhaps you already have a network set up. Essentially, train the trainer programs involve having a few people trained to use the software, and at the same time training them to teach others. For non-profits with a broad geographical reach and a high level of community involvement, this method can be ideal. You help minimize the cost of the initial training and provide in-depth access to software users, wherever it is needed. Train the trainer is especially common in software training, where not everyone may have the same level of technical expertise.
  2. Self-paced Software Training. Another form of training often used to reach across distances, self-paced software training allows users to access training materials on their own schedule. To maximize the benefits of this kind of training, you should still have someone on hand to answer any questions users may have. Also, make sure that the training includes a measurement to gauge the effectiveness of the training, such as a self-test.
  3. Group Training. For smaller non-profits, or if you only need to train a handful of employees, you may benefit from group software training, either in person or via web conference. As a hands-on approach to training, do your best to ensure everyone in the conference room has access to a computer, so they can follow along with exercises.
  4. Ongoing Software Training. Finally, however you choose to conduct initial training sessions, don’t forget ongoing training. As time passes and the software comes to be accepted and used, you will discover new uses for your software, unique to your non-profit. New people will still need to be trained and may have new and complex questions. It is important to keep a plan for ongoing training and sharing of ideas, so that everyone can make best use of your software. This could also be achieved by joining the software providers users group as well.

In essence, the best donor management software, CRM Software, or Membership Management Software (or any software), is one that solves problems not creates them. And, even the best non profit database management software cannot overcome the negatives found in not knowing how to use it!

If you are a non-profit uncertain if you have a “training issue” or “software issue”, please give us a call to learn more about our software assessment services.

Good Software can be found in the partners you choose

Nonprofit software requires support like every other software program. You need a partner you can trust!

Are you ready for this? Despite what you may think or want to believe, often times new software is not what is needed to help your organization move it’s mission forward. Software is not the silver bullet we all hope it will be in our respective business. In this short article, I want to emphasize the importance of good support in software success. And, how important “support” should be on your short list if and when you may be shopping for a solution.

Good Software requires a dependable partner

I can’t “shout this loud enough”, initial and ongoing services by a skilled provider are critical to the successful implementation of a software program! In fact, service is likely as important as the features in determining true value. When auditioning for new software, a company must know what it needs the program to do specifically. Next, the software company has to provide the knowledge and IT expertise to complete the implementation successfully. And, finally, training classes and help manuals are introductory at best. In order to succeed, you will need a highly knowledgeable support provider to reinforce and augment user knowledge long-term with your chosen solution.

Here is a list of things to consider when selecting a support partner:

Hotline Services: 

What kind of hotline services are available and from whom? You may want to pay a moderate rate for unlimited support from an official, authoritative source. When is support available? If you are on the East Coast and dealing with a West coast company, it’s important to know how the provider handles support for you.

Support Tenure: 

How long has the typical support person been with the company? Do they have turnover? It’s not realistic to expect that you will not have a new person handling support sometimes. However, you should expect a software provider to be responsible for providing the tools and training they will need to help you when needed. If there is a “revolving” door at support, there are likely problems in the work environment.

Response Time: 

How long does it take for them to return your call? You do not want to spend your life on hold. Time is of the essence when working on a deadline. You do not want to miss a deadline because you are waiting to find out how to do something new to you. After good training, it will take you several months of consistent use to learn all the ends and outs of your software. If you have an opportunity to “Test Drive” your system before the purchase, check the online documentation, help areas, training videos, & even call the vendor (not the sales rep) to determine the support you may receive. I believe, “how you sell, is how you will likely solve”. That noted, test them.

Industry Expertise: 

Do they understand your process? Does the systems engineer understand your industry? If you are billing members for conferences and books, you need someone who understands how to invoice for multiple services.

Support Software: 

Does your support partner use help desk,support, or project management software ? If they don’t, consider this a “yellow” flag. In other words, this may likely be a sign that they do not believe in providing the best support they can to their customers. At a minimum, they may be setting their support team up for failure by not arming them with the tools they need to succeed in their respective jobs.

Training for their Support Team: 

How often do they train their support team? This includes channel partners who deliver service to the community. This is tough to discern. But, a question or two about how often training transpires for their staff can go a long way in knowing how your experience will be with a software provider. In addition, check out the depth chart.

Per John Wooden, “the main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team”.

Yes, talent can win big games, but a team wins championships. In other words, it’s important that your provider have an established layer of support which they can draw upon to address your specific needs initially and long-term.

At SmartThoughts, we do not implement the software. And, we do not proclaim to be able to solve all the challenges in software. We focus on helping you secure the best possible solution to meet your business objectives. Often times the solution is finding a good support partner.

We believe that ongoing support is critical to realizing the return on investment for your software. To that end, we have aligned ourselves with complimentary business partners who we trust. And, we have developed a vast network of support providers who are experts in Membership Software, Donor Database Software & Social CRM to help ensure your success.

So, if you are looking for a support partner for the software your organization is using now, contact us. We can help. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Finding a good software service provider is critical to success!

You’ve been Hacked! Now, your hosting partner matters

Software as a Service or Hosting of your nonprofit website is critical to ensure long term success. Finding a good host provider matters.

Two weeks ago, our website was hacked. I couldn’t believe it! Why would anyone want to do this to our small business? I was shocked, mad, and scared. Well, after a long weekend on the phone and behind the screen, we finally recovered  and restored everything. This article, was shaped in large part by this experience. And, from my perspective I wanted to cover what was important in a hosting partner when things went wrong for us.

Yes, A Trusted Hosting Partner Matters

All hosting companies are pretty much the same, right? That is true until something goes wrong like getting hacked. It’s critical to know before the disaster transpires who has your back when that happens. The items below are considerations any nonprofit or for profit should make before they turn over their website, content management system, and database to a third-party host or Software As A Service (SaaS) provider.

The Importance of Good Customer Service

We have had the same hosting provider for the last 14 years. And, we have never had an issue like this. I know,  nobody can prevent glitches 100 percent so if and when you find yourself in the middle of one, its best to have someone you can call on to get immediate resolution. We were fortunate. Our host provider provides 24/7 free phone support with customer service reps who spoke my language and actually picked up the phone when I called. Besides customer testimonials, finding out about good customer can be tricky. This is one of those factors that you’ll have to get a little creative to get the real story on. Do a Google Blog search for a particular hosting company, or look them up on Twitter – whatever you have to do to see what their current (or former) customers are saying about them. Are they easy to contact for support? What’s the average time it takes to respond to a ticket? When they find a problem with a site, what’s their course of action?

Backup and Backup again

I was very fortunate. I had a backup of my database through my host provider. Every host should provide nightly backups, keeping the most recent week’s worth at a minimum.  In addition to the possibility of being hacked, you never know what can happen when large volumes of transactions are being processed on your site like events. And, you never know when someone may make an internal mistake . Finally, it’s a good idea to find out what your host’s disaster recovery plan is, as well, to ensure that they are backing up their backups. I set up an automatic backup just in case as well.

Uptime Guarantee

We were back up and running in about 18 hours. A good web hosting company  should guarantee a certain level of uptime or site availability. The last thing you want your donors or members to experience is a blank screen when they type in your URL, so you’ll want to shop for a hosting service with a strong reputation for uptime and redundancy. Most host providers provide an uptime guarantee of 99 percent or more. Also make sure the server has multiple backup locations (mirrored servers) so that if one goes down, they have another already online and ready to go.

Accessibility to the Server

You might find that some hosting services make it difficult to make changes to your site. If so, avoid them. We recommend selecting a provider which provides you access to the server so that you can easily create new email accounts, make changes to server settings. If you host email with your provider, then you must have a way to access email via a web browser to administer and utilize.

Do you blog? 

Content Marketing and the use of blogging is common for many nonprofits today. For many this is not a big concern because many Association Management Software providers today provide blog capabilities and content management systems in their systems. However, if you elect to stay with one of the more standard blogging solutions like WordPress and not using a Software As A Service (SaaS) platform then this is something worth inquiring about. For those, just make sure that if your service provides the minimum requirements for a common system like WordPress, blogging and content management system.

Do you want to share a room with someone? 

One of the ways that you can save money on hosting your website is by turning to something called “shared hosting,” which basically means that your site is being hosted along with dozens of other sites. The downside, though, can be that troubles with one of those sites could lead to problems for all the sites hosted on that server. While websites are kept separate, there can, however, be problems with availability/uptime with this option. Website response time is crucial. Even Google uses page load speed as one of its many factors in determining whether your page will be show high in search results. Another option is dedicated Web hosting, where you lease a whole server for your website(s). Often referred to as a Virtual Dedicated Server (VDS) in this option the server is dedicated to you and is just like having your own server with only your applications running on it. A “VDS” is a bit more expensive but you have a much higher quality web server, faster performance in many cases, & less risk of down time associated with others.


No one likes hidden fees. So before choosing a Web host, “don’t just ask ‘what do I get,’ but ask what is not included. Even if you like the price a web hosting service quotes you, make sure you know what you’re paying for.  When you see price differences it’s helpful to remember the old maxim that we get what we pay for. Take a closer look at the features that each host provides, and THEN compare prices.

What are your exit options

This is applicable for any system which you host today. So, whether you are going with a “Software As A Service” nonprofit software or buying a traditional software license and hosting the database and web components offsite, it’s important to know what is the process for getting your data.

As stated, we were very fortunate. We had a good host and also had a great network to call on who had been through this before. But, don’t wait to find that out. And, if you are looking for a new host, perhaps these insights may help guide you in your decision process. Your final choice is going to boil down to an issue of trust.

Do you believe you are picking the right hosting partner to deliver on the promises they have made? Your website and your data has an impact on the future success of your nonprofit. Therefore, this decision should not be taken likely.

Please contact us today if we can help you decide what makes most sense for your particular needs. Until then, keep SmartThoughts in mind.