Help, there are too many apps!

Nonprofit Software – Choose Carefully

The right nonprofit software can improve upon many processes, including communication, record keeping, marketing, fundraising, financial reporting and more. However, choosing a software solution that can help solve cross-functional needs with a limited budget is no easy task.


“Low-Cost”, High Stakes

There are many different apps available for non-profits, and many of them are free.  Free or “low-cost” can sometimes be great, however “low-cost” software solutions can be also be their own worst enemy. They prevent the organization from gathering the specific data you need, cause workplace inefficiencies, and can be difficult to use and burdensome for staff members. Short-term thinking that is focused solely on the bottom line can lead to long-term administrative complexities.  Be aware that free or “low-cost” solutions often come with:

  • Unexpected bugs or unanticipated technical limitations, forcing staff to spend excessive amounts of time finding workarounds to technical limitations
  • Poor customer support or no customer support at all, requiring staff to spend tons of time troubleshooting issues


Real-Life Example

A small non-profit that provides after-school leadership education skills to middle and high school youth is always looking to save on costs.  The budget is tight, and when searching for a fundraising platform, the Executive Director chooses the lowest-cost solution and finds a part-time freelancer to set it up.  Fast forward a few months, and the board is complaining to the Executive Director about how antiquated their donations webpages look.  “People don’t trust giving their money to something that looks like it was built in the 90s.”  The Executive Director goes into crisis management mode, and quickly finds a platform that is sleek and intuitive. However, the new platform costs $1,000 per month.  By initially going for the cheapest option, the CEO lost trust with board members, which lead to an overreaction that put him on one of the most expensive donation platforms.

How to Choose the Right Software

You can set your organization up for long-term success by undertaking a thorough software discovery and evaluation process before selecting software.  Focusing less on up-front cost, and more on developing solutions that can meet all of your goals across multiple functions within the organization is a nonprofit’s best bet for successful long-term results and will end up saving on budget over the long-term.

How do you choose?  My advice is to work with an experienced software consultant who can help you fully understand the needs of all your users for the system, plan out a realistic budget, and assign an internal champion to oversee the implementation project. Having those pieces in place before you begin will ensure you save money, create efficiencies, and implement the most suitable solution for your organization.


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Why User Experience (UX) Design is Crucial for Non-Profits

“We spend so much time entering data into many different software systems. It takes away from the time we can spend with our clients, and it doesn’t help us improve the services we provide.”  

Sound familiar?  Sadly, this is a very common complaint we hear from social workers within the human services industry.

In 2015, 41% of nonprofits replaced software. This indicates that many products are failing to meet non-profit needs. In fact, 52% of non-profit software buyers were using general-purpose software, such as Microsoft Excel or Google Drive. (View Source

Many social workers view software as a burden, but software solutions that are truly useful should:

  • Be fast and easy to use
  • Allow social workers to gain useful insights into the needs of clients
  • Help workers be more efficient in their day-to-day responsibilities

User experience design for non-profit software makes this possible.

User experience design is a greatly overlooked priority within the non-profit industry.  When reviewing and selecting software, budget is always tough to secure, and user experience and efficiency is often overshadowed by administrators or who are looking to save on expenses. When this happens, end-users are often left out of the conversation. When it comes time for training and implementation, users will be skeptical and resistant to the new software.

Looking at how nonprofits have traditionally used software, a shift in mindset (and money) needs to happen. Instead of simply acting as a database to generate reports that funders want to see, more emphasis needs to be placed on how easy and beneficial software will be for end-users.

When this shift happens and software is designed to help social workers, the benefits become readily apparent:

    1. Less Staff Training:  Software that is intuitive and easy to use will require less training, which translates into direct cost savings
    2. Faster User Adoption:  Social workers will be eager (not resistant) to using new software when they see the value it provides for them
    3. Lower Employee Turnover:  Social workers will be happier, which creates indirect cost savings over the long-term
    4. Improved Services, and more of them:  When software is easy-to-use, workers can provide services more efficiently. This means more time with clients, and more services. This means an organization can grow its services without hiring new employees, a direct cost benefit to the organization.
    5. Better Client Care:  Software that is accessible and easy-to-understand for non-technical users will help them to better understand their clients needs, so they can improve the care they provide
    6. Easier Fundraising:  Major donors are usually savvy business people. They understand the value of strategic investments/expenses that improve organizational efficiency and client care. Non-profits can use key performance indicators gathered through new software to demonstrate how donor dollars are being efficiently used. Fundraising is easier with great data.

4 Key Steps to Get Started on User Experience Design for non-profit Software

  • Fully understand the needs and goals for the system from all users (not just IT administrators and funders, but also end-users)
  • Set and secure a realistic budget and timeline
  • Assign someone to internally manage the implementation project
  • Work with an experienced non-profit software consultant to understand your software needs and help you design, build, and implement a solution suitable for your organization

Having those pieces in place before you begin will ensure you save money, create efficiencies, and build the best user-friendly software solution for your non-profit.

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