I have worked with hundreds of people shopping for nonprofit software over the last 8 years, and I can usually tell right away when someone has taken the wrong road with their search. They have gotten side tracked and seduced by all the technology bells and whistles out there – aka the Lacy Thong!

All those sexy little features and functions attract so much attention and arouse the mind. Bells and whistles are at the top of their database requirements list. *Sigh* All practicality has gone out the window!

Sure those new or one-of-a-kind features are cool – remember QR codes, but how many times a year are you really going to use that snazzy little tool? If the answer is “maybe once or twice,” or “I don’t know,” I recommend putting those features at the bottom of the list, not at the top. You’ll get the most bang for your buck going for overall value and efficiency versus the used once a year thong.

It has been my experience that Database Thong Shopping happens when the person assigned to do the software search is either new to the organization or doesn’t actually use the current software on a daily basis. They tend to dive head first into product demonstrations without having done a thorough Needs Assessment and Data Inventory whatsoever. Unfortunately, participating in multiple different software demos without knowing what the current facts and problems are, is a waste of valuable time.

It is impossible to find the right fit if you don’t even know what you’re shopping for and why – make sure to take time to talk with users of the current software to see what their needs are and how they envision using the new software. Understanding basic information about your current data situation and work flow is critical before diving into demos and asking for prices.

If you have been assigned to shop for new software, before a single demo can be seen, please make sure to do a Needs Assessment.

Your needs assessment should include these steps:

  • Talk to all the everyday database users, keepers of the spreadsheets, senders of the emails and Action Alerts, communication, program, volunteer managers, fundraising staff and your web manager – know what they use to track data and run reports
  • Write down the prices and fees for each platform you are currently using (ie email program, database software, etc)
  • Have an idea of how much time each person spends on routine tasks
  • Find out how many master records each person has, and how many of those are duplicates
  • Make a list of what works, what doesn’t work, what the problems are, and what your users want to do but can’t because of current software limitations

Keep the day to day technology needs high on the priority list, and let the other requirements fall in line accordingly. The more the shopper can stay focused on the big picture, the better. When it does come time to evaluate a few new packages, you’ll be able to answer how this new tool, bell or whistle supports your organization’s mission and vision, and how this new technology will help you meet your goals in the short and long term.

When shopping for new software, be practical, be comfortable and make your decision based on something that will cover your backside 365 days out of the year!