Capterra recently asked me, and others in the software business, for advice on choosing the right nonprofit or membership management software, and how to make the shopping process as quick and painless as possible.
I loved all the advice given because there is so much to say when it comes to taking your individual organization and your needs, and finding a software that will match what you are looking for.
As the founder of an online registration software, my advice on choosing the right software for your nonprofit or membership management needs boils down to this:
Seek solutions, not features.
The mistake everyone makes when looking for nonprofit software is focusing on features, features, features. But this is the wrong way to approach evaluating a membership or nonprofit management system, or any business software for that matter.
Nonprofit software basics
Obviously you want nonprofit software that:
- Fits your budget
- Is easy to use
- Helps you set everything up and keep things running smoothly
In my opinion, the only software you should even consider should meet the following four criteria:
1. Knowledge: They know the nonprofit and membership world.
2. Understanding: They put emphasis on getting to know your organization and your needs. In order for a software to solve the problems you are facing, they need to understand those problems. A truly great company who knows your industry should be able to build upon your list of needs vs. wants and add insight as to what problems you seem to have with your current system and how their software can solve and address those problems.
3. Payment solution: They have a great payment system! Payments and money reporting are very important for nonprofits! Make sure the software you are looking at can handle the type of reporting you need for tax purposes.
4. Communication: They have a great communication and email system. You want to be able to easily connect with the right people when you need to. Whether it’s sending out a newsletter to everyone or targeting a specific group of people to send a message. Your software should allow you to filter and find the people you need to be in touch with and communicate in a way that makes sense for your organization.
Fortunately for you, many nonprofit software companies tick all those boxes!
So, what do you do once you’ve found some great software options?
Once you have your nonprofit software list narrowed down, it’s time to compare!
The first rule when comparing is to make sure you are comparing apples to apples, right? How do you do that when each software company offers something a little different?
The common answer to this question is to compare features. And this sounds reasonable right? If one software offers Feature A (a feature that sounds like something you want and/or need, of course) and another company doesn’t offer Feature A, well then that first company looks pretty good, right?
So how, then, do you compare and decide who to go with?
The better way to approach the search for software is to look at software as a solution to problems you have in your organization.
This means you have to:
1. Define your problems.
2. Prioritize your problems.
3. Find the software that solves your most pressing problems.
Once you do this, comparing is really easy! You’re not looking for the most features, you’re looking for the systems that solve your biggest problems.
When you take this approach, suddenly “features” become irrelevant.
The first step is to decide what the problems you need to solve are!
This is pretty straightforward. First sit down and really evaluate and be critical of your process and how you’d like it to improve.
Here are two examples to illustrate how to determine what your big problems are and how to translate your problems into software features.
Example #1: Incomplete applications
Problem: Too many people start the application process online but stop before they complete it.
Solution: There are many potential causes of this problem, so you need to clearly identify why this is happening for you specifically.
One cause of abandons might be your application doesn’t flow well. Often there are too many forms or too many questions that aren’t relevant to that individual applicant. Sometimes the application requires information the applicant doesn’t have on hand when they are filling it out, so they leave it intending have to come back later, but then they don’t.
To solve this problem, you need a software that does a few things:
1. Will send out an email when an applicant leaves the application with incomplete sections.
The email should include clear action items, including the fields they need to fill out, links to complete them right then and there, and contact information for you to be in touch if they are confused (though a good email should make this unnecessary).
2. Will customize the application for each individual user.
For example, you might ask “Do you have any food allergies?” If the answer is no, the application will move on to the next section or question. If the answer is yes, then you can trigger more questions to be answered (what are they, what medications are you taking, etc.).
Example #2: People aren’t paying!
Problem: People are not paying dues on time, or at all.
Solution: You can’t just find a software that has a good email communication system for this one.
It would be nice if a good email system meant payment reminder emails go out and therefore payments come in on time.
That is part of the solution, of course. Quality payment emails contain a clear call to action, balance due, and a clear due date in the email to get them going! But unfortunately you need more than that to get paid on time.
Nonprofit software that provides a solution to the problem of not being paid on time includes these features:
1. A payment processor within the application, not a third-party link. When sending people to an external link 27% of them will drop off just because it is not on your site.
2. Payment options such as payment plans and installments.
3. Triggered emails to remind about payments go out at effective times. Someone might not pay right away because they don’t have their payment info at the ready when they are in your application. By sending out a simple call to action payment reminder email RIGHT when they log out of your system, this will help to remind the user and get it done that same day.
Figuring out what your problem areas are will allow you to find a software that offers a practical solution. Once you know your problems, you can look for features that help solve them.
The most important part of looking for a nonprofit or membership management software is to think critically about what problems you want a software to solve, and find a software that will solve them!
Don’t be blinded by the lists of features and fancy marketing boasting about the number of features they offer. Features are nice, but identifying what you need and which software will give you what you need is important for you to get the most out of a software.
What are your big problems? How are you looking for software to solve them? Let us know in the comments!
Images by Abby Kahler
Looking for Nonprofit software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Nonprofit software solutions.