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10 Ways Board Members can Help their Nonprofits find the Right Software

“How can I help my nonprofit find the right software?”  We get asked this question quite a lot by the terrific folks we place on nonprofit boards.  Many nonprofits are greatly in need of some software assistance, whether it’s buying their first software, or upgrading what they have.  An engaged board member can often be very helpful guiding their nonprofit through the process of purchasing the right software.  For guidance on this topic, we turned to guest blogger Anthony Pisappia of Philadelphia nonprofit Tech Impact.  Thanks Anthony for helping our readers once again!  

10 Ways Board Members can Help their Nonprofits find the Right Software

Software is an integral part of running any nonprofit effectively. The right software improves all aspects of a nonprofit’s operations and gives you, as a board member, the data you need.

But when it comes to choosing software, many board members are flying blind.

Here are 10 ways board members can help your nonprofit find the right software and implement it correctly, the first time.

1.      Start the right way
Data migration is one of the most critical steps in any successful software project.  Too many nonprofits skimp on the $1,000, $2,000, or $3,000 fees that software companies charge to put existing data into the tool.  If the fees are too exorbitant, you may want to choose another vendor.  And if you must save money, decide which data is less important and can be migrated at a later time.

2.      Define your timeline
Don’t implement software while you’re running your big event.  Choose the time of the year your nonprofit is less busy to set deadlines. Also, make sure you set aside time for training.  Finally, don’t let an expanding timeline derail the project.  Make sure you have a buffer of up to 100% added in.

3. Create a ‘dream list’ of features and functions
Consider what features you know for a fact that you need versus those that would be a “nice to have.”  Can you generate the right reports?  Can you track the data that is important to your organization? Rate the pros and cons of having each feature and hash out what is really important.  Remember, the more features a piece of software has, the more complicated it can be to use.  Which leads us to point 4.

4.  Consider your employees
Think about your employees and those whose jobs will be impacted by this new software. How receptive are these individuals to change? How much training will be required?  Is it simple enough for everyone to use?

5.  Be inquisitive, and thoughtful
Ask questions and ask often. There should not be any questions you cannot ask a software vendor.  Don’t just talk to salesmen.  Ask if you can talk to the support people, engineers, or those who do migration and training.  Ask them what the common issues are that other nonprofits run into.  Also ask them what the plans are for future software updates.

6.  Get references
Any software company worth their salt should be able to provide you with references.  When talking to references, try to get a feel for the kind of customer support and service you can expect.  Also, check on line for customers talking about the software.

7.  Know the contract
Once you’ve made a decision on the software you want to implement, make sure you know the contract in and out. Have multiple people look it over to ensure you did not miss anything in the process.  Once your data is in the tool, who owns it?  Are there mechanisms to get your data out if the company goes bankrupt or something unforeseen happens?  All of these things should be very clear in the contract.

8.  Define a budget
Software and other tech implementations often come with unforeseen surprises and costs. Ensure your budget has enough room for contingency and emergency funds.  +20% provides a good buffer.

9.  Budget for on-going support
Another place nonprofits should never skimp is in on-going support.  It’s important to have a place to call with questions or to report issues.  Know how big a support team is in place and how many times you can call without being charged more.  Also ask what sorts of problems those support people can help you resolve.  Are you going to be reliant on a single software developer, or a whole team?  It makes a big difference.

10.  Consider the cloud

Many of today’s databases are being hosted in the cloud, which means you are not responsible for maintaining the hardware your database runs on.  Not only can cloud software reduce on-going costs, it can improve the availability of your data.  Cloud solutions allow nonprofit employees to access information from wherever they are.  And cloud databases are less prone to failure because the systems they run on are redundant.

Choosing the right software is never easy, but you can be a great resource to your organization as they go through the process.  Make sure your nonprofit is considering these 10 things before the project gets underway.


Anthony Pisapia is the Associate Executive Director of Philadelphia nonprofit Tech Impact.  He is the father of three, husband to a beautiful clinical psychologist, an avid tennis player, a classically trained guitarist and a classic car restorer. Since assembling his first computer at the age of 8, Anthony has worked with hundreds of nonprofit executives, helping them access the technology they need to be successful in their missions.  In 2009, he co-founded the award-winning ITWorks program which helps vulnerable young adults get started in careers in technology.  In 2013 he was named one of the country’s top emerging nonprofit leaders by Bank of America.