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Why are Less Features and More Ease of Use Radical with Fundraising Software?

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Even though I often remark about “less is more” in software, for not just nonprofits, but for any software.  I must admit the writing of this post was stimulated by a great article I read last week.  The article appeared in Wired Magazine and was written by Mat Honan entitled “The Simple Complex”.  Here is the link

The first sentence grabbed me, does it you?  “Simple doesn’t just sell it sticks.”

Mat went on to state how simplicity made huge hits out of such products such as the new Nest thermostat, TiVo, Fitbit and even the age old Swiss Army Knife.   If that is the case, why do electronic products and more importantly software, often become BLOATED in later versions or iterations?

Design is a jobTough Software Development Decisions

I know from experience it is much easier to let software expand and bloat rather than ruthlessly making them simpler and easier to use.  As the French philosopher Blaise Pascal stated, “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter!”  More often than not, software developers in their zest to please everyone, by keeping every feature under the sun, actually make their products progressively more difficult to use and nearly impossible for beginners.  Just ask anyone trying to learn a product that has been around more than 10 years in the nonprofit world!

Mike Monteiro author of Design is a Job states “Simplicity is about subtraction.”  Such adherence to pure and utter simplicity saved Apple. Would we all not be better off if the next version of Microsoft Word cut out the 75% of the product 98% of us never use?  Are we not all happier because Google never expanded their search screen beyond this?

Both Fundraising Software and Nonprofit CRM are Guilty

Over the years, I have witnessed this happening with Fundraising Software and now Nonprofit CRM applications.  The Fund-Master program I demonstrated in the early 80’s was simple enough that little or no training was required.  Over time, we tried to make everyone happy, including those buyers who insisted on check marks being placed within a much too large spreadsheet.  What happened?  Bloat on top of bloat, which leads to complexity and a week or more of training to understand even though it did less than today’s smartphones. Can you even imagine if your new smartphone required a full week of training?  The growth of that industry would stop immediately!

In fact, Stopping immediately is usually what happens in most fundraising departments when the inevitable turnover of a key end user of the fundraising software occurs.   All those check marks on the decision-making spreadsheet, which seemed so wonderful then, now mean a steep learning curve, large amounts of lost time and the extreme likelihood of only using 10% of the functions available.


I know those are strong words above, but honestly, would it not be better to have the 10-20% of the functions you really need and use in your fundraising office be simple and easy?   Think of the impact it would have on the strategic functions you should be doing daily.  Key results, such as a higher level of donor retention, could be the focus rather than spending days learning arcane keystroke patterns.
I truly believe Mat Honan summed it up quite well in his final paragraph of his article.  He wrote:

“Simplicity is actually quite simple.  It requires paring things away when market forces tell you to add.  It means removing layers rather than adding them.  In short, all it takes is a bit of courage.”

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