If your foundation or charity is thinking about implementing new software, it's essential that it have a well-thought-out technology strategy in place before proceeding. Such a strategy should include a holistic view of the pros and cons of the software under consideration, buy-in from key stakeholders, and a focus on ROI as well as costs.
Of course, any software implementation should be a team effort that has been blessed by leadership and is conducted in real partnership with the software implementer. Settling on a software solution that solves one problem for a single department without thinking through the entire organization's technology needs and ecosystem can lead to more problems than it solves, including:
- a fatal lack of buy-in from staff and management;
- technology needs that go unaddressed;
- duplication of effort; and
- lack of systems integration.
Selecting a vendor based on a solution's cosmetic features while ignoring the implementer's competence and capacity can also cause problems. And because many foundations and nonprofits are laser-focused on initial costs and frequently ignore longer-term return-on-investment (ROI) calculations, especially when it comes to choosing a firm to implement a solution, organizations often end up with software that is inexpensive but does nothing to drive impact or improve their bottom lines.
Long story short? Software solutions that appear to be inexpensive at first glance can result in significant unaccounted-for costs during the implementation process. Which is why forward-thinking organizations look for solutions that can help them advance their mission and yield a better-than-average return on investment.
Here are five types of software that are useful for foundations and grantmaking charities:
- CRM: Provides a holistic view of the constituent experience across the entire organization.
- Fundraising: Gives a clear view of performance and yield (including data enrichment services), processes donations, and helps empower your organization's “evangelists” to raise money on your behalf.
- Financial: Provides in-depth record keeping and custom reports that allow you to drill down into your finances.
- Grants management and impact measurement: Identifies, tracks, and measures the impact of grants and gifts (both cash and in-kind) against concrete outcomes.
- Analytics: Is used to harness the power of data and connect with constituents, highlight areas of operational improvement, and generate insights into potential organizational investments.
So how can organizations set themselves up for long-term success once they've chosen one or more of the above solutions? Here are five best software implementation practices:
- Align on expectations. Prior to implementation, set goals with your implementation specialist, share and confirm that all requirements are aligned with organizational expectations, construct a timeline, and get final sign off on the steps in the process.
- Appoint a project manager. Once expectations have been outlined and agreed to, appoint a key stakeholder from your team to serve as project manager. The project manager should also be the main point of contact for your software partner's representative.
- Focus on the partnership. Once a project plan has been agreed to, discuss and determine the most efficient method of communication between your team and your software partner, as well as the frequency of communications (once a week? biweekly? monthly?). Also, be sure to finalize how best to share and collaborate on all documents created and maintained during the project.
- Develop checkpoints. Building checkpoints into the project plan will ensure that your goals and expectations are being met and that any questions are answered in a timely and responsive manner. The objective here is to eliminate miscommunication and make sure that all parties to the agreement are held accountable for their deliverables. We often hear, for example, about a system that has gone live without historical data. If something like that occurs, everyone involved needs to know who made the decision and why it was made. Having checkpoints with specific approval criteria helps keep the project on track and ensures that expectations laid out at the beginning of the project are being met.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Although it can be time-consuming, engaging in a continuous dialogue with your software partner is the best way to ensure that your organization's needs are being met and that everyone involved in the project is on the same page.
All too often, an organization's technology strategy and best practices like those outlined above are considered after an organization has invested in a bunch of different solutions, making it harder to course correct when it becomes apparent that the technologies in question don't connect or integrate with each other.
If your organization is just starting out, focus on the core technologies it needs to be effective and operate efficiently (ideally choosing from the solutions listed above). And when you're ready to build out your technology platform, be sure to reference your organization's overarching technology strategy, which should be updated every two or three years (the world is moving fast!).
Annie Rhodes is director of foundation strategy for Blackbaud Foundation Solutions. Follow Annie on Twitter at @AnnieMRhodes.