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4 Questions to Ask Before Your Nonprofit Buys Software

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I’ll be the first to admit that when I lead the volunteer management software search for my nonprofit in 2012 I was… how can I say this… a novice.

Besides knowing we had a few administrative annoyances with how we tracked volunteers, I did not have many thoughtful questions to help me quickly differentiate between options.

Looking back, I did not choose the best software for that nonprofit. There, I said it. Can anyone commiserate with me?

After helping a couple hundred nonprofits carefully select Bloomerang the past few years for their donor management software (and pointing some nonprofits to other options that better fit their particular needs; believe it or not, our salespeople really do that!), here is one question I should have asked in 2012 and one you should ask next time you’re shopping:

1. How does your company make product decisions?

Having been in the buying seat and the selling seat, this is the most important question I didn’t know to ask then nor do I hear many nonprofits ask me now.

This question is so important because it can quickly cut to the heart of what the company is aiming to solve. If you ask Bloomerang, we’ll tell you that we prioritize solutions that help our customers improve their donor retention. That’s our focus. We’re far from the only people who know that increasing donor retention is a silver bullet for nonprofit sustainability, but we are the only ones who have built a software around it.

When you ask the question above you’re likely to hear an answer that hits on one or more of these priorities:

  • Current (and prospective) customer requests
  • Infrastructure maintenance and improvements
  • Innovation

So, here are a few more follow-up questions you should ask to quickly understand if a software company’s key mission aligns with your key objectives:

2. Current (and prospective) customer requests – No software is perfect – am I right? In my experience, most software companies have a way customers can share suggestions on which features and improvements they would to like have added. They also share their product roadmap, so customers know which features are being developed.

Insider question to ask a salesperson: how often do you build features for one customer? (hint: the answer should be never unless you have a six-figure software budget or if you don’t mind if that company is around in two years).

3. Infrastructure maintenance and improvements – Technology, and specifically online security, improve regularly. And, every software in the world has bugs that develop. If a product team doesn’t normally invest time in quickly solving bugs, the software will become unusable and/or insecure quickly.

Insider question to ask: do you have a Changelog, and is it publicly accessible? Like, can I see it, please? How often are you making updates?

4. Innovation – If the people designing and building the product understand the key problems in that industry (think: donor retention), then they’ll focus on solving those real-world problems. The alternative is for product priorities to shift drastically in a short period of time or building features that may not contribute to real-world change. Shiny bells and whistles never upset anyone, but keep in mind if they really solve your key objectives or if they’re just cool to see and play with.

What other questions can nonprofits ask to quickly learn if a product is designed, at its core, to solve your end-game objectives?

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