A top notch consultant friend of mine in the England by the name of Peter Flory shared a story with me nearly twenty years ago, which made an indelible impression.

Peter prided himself on having one of the most complete and exhaustive RFP (request for proposal) documents in the world for selecting fundraising system. Over an inch thick when printed, it literally struck fear in the heart of any vendor who was subjected to the high level scrutiny of their solutions. Peter used to brag I could find any and all deficiencies in such systems based upon what features were missing even if they were only used once in a great while if ever.

This is where the plot thickens. A few enterprising individuals left an existing solution vendor to create their own fundraising software solution. Knowing that possible large deals and great rewards awaited any solution that could pass the Peter RFP test with flying colors, they literally used RFP document as the blueprint for their system creation. In fact, they were able to successfully place a check mark in nearly every single feature box!

Checking Every Feature Box Did Not Equal Success

Peter admitted to me he was both surprised and elated to see the resulting responses to the next few major requests for proposals he put out to the vendor market. This brand new system met every feature requirement!

He had never seen this before and therefore assumed the potentially perfect system had been created. He suggested to a couple of the larger charities issuing the RFP they move forward with implementing this new system.

His first surprise and concern centered on the extra time this new solution was taking to set up and implement. Evidently, making the hundreds of features come to life required even more decisions about settings and options.

This first concern morphed into even greater concerns and outright difficulties with ease of use. In the end, the system was not deemed usable in its present form by the staff at the charities.

Taking Inventory on Feature Usage in Nonprofit Database Systems

Every leading retail store operation knows down to the penny what revenue and profit is being provided daily, weekly and monthly by each item of inventory being sold. They know which ones are hot and which ones are slow movers. They obviously adjust future orders based upon this information.

Software vendors, especially those serving the charity sector are not always that smart! I am not trying to be harsh, but to my knowledge few if any of the top vendors have ever removed little used features and functions in order to stream line the use of their products. This is sad because the end users could truly benefit if this was done.

Most of the vendors have the capability to actually view what features and functions are used by which customers and at what rate. What results is a rather informative chart like the one below:

Feature Graph

Notice the relatively few key functions which are used the vast majority of the time followed by the cliff like drop off to a large number of little used features and functions. Think of what features you use daily with your smart phone compared with the thousands that could be used. Perhaps that is why most smart phone users neither need a training class or even a tutorial to begin effective use.

Dare We Do Anything To Help?

While attending the recent International Conference of Fundraising Professionals many of the vendors wondered why this was the case. The resulting answers were all quite similar. They stated the vast majority of purchase decisions for such applications are not based upon ease of use, nor even on the ease of the most commonly needed daily functions, but always seemed to be based upon some sort of feature checklist where “more is better.” Therefore, mere idea of taking little used functions away literally struck fear in the vendor’s hearts. Who would dare be the product development person who caused even one sale to be lost? This reasoning is also a key aspect of why many “established” systems have trouble bring out new and innovative versions of their product.

Perhaps courage and common sense will prevail in the future. The large multitude of “failed” systems in use, which yield little or no benefit to the end users and front line fundraisers due to their complexity, should be testament to which direction we go in the future. Maybe the phrase “Less is More” is appropriate here as we determine what will literally lead to more fundraising success.

If day to day usage by EVERYONE involved with fundraising and relationship building, by virtue of any system handling the daily needed functions easily, leads to success, we might see a bold new paradigm emerge. Maybe those lessons and such systems are about to take center stage. What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth. Prior to starting eTapestry, Jay served 14 years as President and CEO of Master Software Corporation. MSC provided a widely used family of database products for the non-profit sector called Fund-Master. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman. Jay is also the author of Stay Together: How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty.