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When non-profit organizations are looking to purchase new software, the process can often be stressful and complicated. Bob Alves, chairman and CEO of Advanced Solutions International (ASI), offers some best practices to help non-profits navigate the software selection process.


Non-profit organizations should first identify software vendors at major tradeshows and go through their peer-to-peer networks for technology recommendations. Once a few software options have been selected, discovery sessions and overview demonstrations can help them determine if the technologies identified address their needs. Each department should discuss two or three items that are most important to them, to select which vendor is the best fit.

While there will be obstacles for organizations to overcome, such as staff issues, lack of comfort with technology purchases, board mandates and lack of time, these issues can be resolved. It is important to bear in mind that choosing non-profit technology is a business decision, which will benefit organizations’ causes in the long run. Although the process may be time consuming, it will take even more money and resources to repeat the process if non-profits are not satisfied with their first choices.

It’s important to build a strategic plan with financials in place that suggests the scope of the software non-profits really need to support their operational objectives. Define what staff needs to accomplish in order to reach those goals. Ask questions—does the team need a more efficient way to reach prospective members? Will an events management tool help the organization launch events? Assigning each of these strategic functions a representative metric will be helpful throughout the decision process.

Before starting the selection process, ask the various departments for their feedback. Assign a champion in each department that will be tasked with keeping the project on track. The champions will help refine the strategic vision and streamline the software conversion and implementation. Brief each champion on the organization’s operational objectives, and ask he or she to brainstorm what the departments need to reach their respective goals. This information will help non-profits decide what solution is needed. Staff will also feel more involved in the organization and accept responsibility for their pieces of the project.

When evaluating the software options, Gartner’s Project Decision and Evaluation Criteria suggests looking at the strength of the vendor, its support capabilities, relevant experience and references, product functionality, implementation track record and technology price. There are also several questions to ask vendors’ customers, to help with the software selection process. These include the number of staff and users in the organization, how the vendor approached the implementation, if it was on time and fell within budget, and if the process met their expectations. It will be helpful to know how much customization was required, how the training was handled, what the support was like and if they have up-to-date manuals for all of their modules. Organizations should choose a vendor that will be reliable and can support their future needs.

If a non-profit chooses to make the selection independently, there are a number of benefits, such as no added expenses or delays. Non-profit organizations should develop mechanisms for a successful implementation, and acquire the organizational skills needed to handle sophisticated information technology for any future purchases.

The people within non-profit organizations know its operations better than anyone else—and fully understand their technology needs. When selecting software, organizations should engage with vendors, to determine fit and feasibility of the product and the competence of the people behind it. Following these best practices, will provide an opportunity to refine business practices with real, live software, while presenting boards with precise costs and timelines. Last modified on Sunday, 19 May 2013
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