Natalie Garcia

Choosing New Technology For Your Nonprofit

by Natalie Garcia, People and Culture Manager, Notley

Finding a new technology solution can be a daunting prospect. Tech tool fatigue is something every organization deals with, especially those on a tight budget. Infusing some planning into your search will not only help you sift through the never-ending list of options, but also help determine if you are optimizing your current solutions to their full potential.  

The two most important philosophies to remember when vetting tech vendors are:

1. Never pay for something that is a “unitasker,” as in, it only does one thing.
2. Looking for a software solution is like shopping for your dream home. Unless you’re building it yourself, there is no one perfect home that has everything you need and want.
This step-by-step guide and accompanying SAMPLE will tell you everything you need to know about how to choose the right technology solution for your growing nonprofit.

Step 1: Survey Your Users

Use a Google form or small group survey of the most frequent fliers for your new solution to gain insight into how, why and how often they will use it. 

Take this opportunity to gather pain points surrounding your current solution (if you are already using one) or to capture valuable data that will allow you to start on the right path to researching options.  Some questions you might ask in your survey: 

  • What do you love/hate the most about our current solution? 

  • How often do you use the current solution? 

  • If this solution could do one thing to make your life easier, what would that be? 

  • Do you think we need a software solution for this, or just better structure around the process? 

  • Why do you think this solution is needed? 

Step 2: Create Your Must-Haves and Nice-to-Haves List

Once you have input from your team, create a document or spreadsheet that houses all the things you hope to achieve with your new solution. Shopping for a new platform should be treated the same way you’d approach a real estate purchase. Know exactly what you need to have in order for it to be livable, and then have your list of things that will give that option the edge over everything else. 
For example, if you’re searching for a new Human Resources Information System (HRIS) and you run payroll for two entities, that is one “must-have” that would immediately reduce the option pool. Later down the line, if you have two or more very comparable solutions, you can take a look at each one’s “nice-to-haves” to help you nail down the one that is best suited for your team. 

Step 3: Begin Researching Possible Solutions

Try to identify the one thing your solution needs to provide you with and Google that phrase, rather than searching for generic things like “project management tool” or “HRIS solution.” By targeting a specific desirable outcome in your search, you’ll end up with options that are known in their industry for catering to your needs rather than a miles-long list of results. 
Gather a list of a few options that seem viable, and then run those through some technology review platforms, such as G2, to help further narrow down your candidates. Many vendors now also provide short video demos on their websites. Watch them. Does the solution look user friendly? Do you see some things that could really address your needs? Put them on the contact list! 
Finally, don’t forget to review and audit your current solutions to see if one of them might already have functionality or an add-on feature for a lower cost (and less logins) than an entirely new solution.

Step 4: Ask Around for Recommendations

Your own team members who have worked for different organizations previously may have used this solution before. That’s a great place to start! Ask if anyone on your team has used or worked with any of the vendors on your list. 
You or your other HR team members may also be involved in some networking groups. Consider asking them to get some quick feedback from those connections as well. 
Asking if other similar-size companies use and are happy with the solution is a great way to get real testimonial feedback from someone outside of your potential vendor’s sales and marketing team. These folks may even have a rep they’ve worked with that they can connect you with, and might receive discounts for their referral (and you might too)!

Step 5: Table It

Start a spreadsheet or Airtable (pictured below) to create a comparison table, and track progress on each solution. Include fields such as Vendor Name, Total Annual Cost and Must Haves.

Step 6: Drive The Sales Flow

The Sales Rep 

So now you’re ready to reach out to a few potential vendors. Your new mantra is “don’t be a passenger in the sales rep’s car.” You should dictate the entire flow of the sales process by being clear, confident and transparent about what you as the potential customer need in order for them to close the sale. 

Many salespeople are trained in the art of steering you toward making a commitment at all costs, sometimes before they will even provide you with pricing. It’s ok to politely push back and say no or “I don’t know yet” if they ask you for information or commitments you aren’t ready to give. 

The Cost

Cost is always going to be a factor for any organization, no matter their size, and it’s a waste of everyone’s time if you fall in love with a solution you can’t afford. Don’t agree to a demo longer than 15 minutes before getting pricing. Ideally you will be given pricing prior to a demo, but some solutions have various enterprise level options, so a short and targeted demo might actually help you. 

Don’t commit to a timeline until you have approval. If they offer you a discount to try to get you to commit, it’s very likely they will still be able to honor that if you are honest about your organization’s approval process and realistic about how long you need to make a fully informed decision. 

The Demo

If you do schedule a demo, now is the time to bring back that list of “must-haves” and keep the “nice-to-haves” handy as well. Often when you’re getting a demo, they are showing you how the product is designed to be used, which is fine if you are looking for a turnkey solution where there isn’t currently one in your organization. But if you’re moving to a new platform and have existing processes and needs, those should be yours and your rep’s top priority, and dictate the way your demo goes. 

Send your sales rep both of your lists prior to the demo and ask them to make sure those “must have” items are addressed in the demo. The demo is the vendor’s opportunity to show you how they are right for you, not to regurgitate something you can watch on Vimeo.

Step 7: Compare and Contrast Options, Consider ROI

Use your table to determine which option for the lowest cost is the most appropriate for your organization. Eliminate any options that are out of your budget (unless you can justify the cost increase in your ROI). Be sure to envision whether or not this solution will be able to grow with you and your organization as your needs change. And finally, especially if you are the administrator, do YOU like this solution? Does it seem like you will be able to navigate it easily and that managing it won’t add to your current workload? What do they say the implementation timeline is like, and will you have a dedicated project manager? 
Many vendors should be able to provide you with an ROI report on the money saved by using their tool. These usually aren’t accurate for smaller organizations, but can certainly be reworked with a little Excel ingenuity and your inputting more realistic figures representative of your organization’s human capital. You should always include a basic ROI report to whomever is the final decision maker, as it will show them you are serious about your proposal and can help justify the “why” your organization needs this tool. 

Step 8: Pick Your Winner!

Now that you have done your due diligence, it’s time to pick the winner. Determining which solution will give you the most while costing the least should be a simple, data-driven decision. Which one has the most usable functionality for the lowest possible cost? 
If there’s a final decision maker, and you’re torn between two options, this is a great time to involve them. Do you have one you like better but it costs more? Go back to the vendor and see if they’ll come down on the price to meet a competitor’s pricing for a similar solution. If you’re the final decision maker, ask a trusted colleague to review your options and give insights. 
Once you’ve done these final touches, you should end up with a multi-purpose solution you’re happy to live with.

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