WestCoast2008:Methods in Selecting Software

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How do you balance the need to pick great software with the need to not spend a year full time doing it? We'll talk about processes and methods - including Idealware's research methods for understanding what software is available in a particular area - that can help.

Seth & Laura -- Software Selection


  • Psychological and cultural divide between technies and the mission that is inimitable to your interest.

Seems that there has to be some fundamental understanding of how the technology works, and if you don't have that ....

  • The concept of good enough.
  • Great idea to use others RFPs at shortcut feature list.
  • Happy that others agreed that RFP's can be a waste of time
  • Challenges can be very similar, but solutions very different.



  • For CMS, picked tech first (Drupal), then put out RFP without specifying platform
  • For CRM, picked platform first (salesforce), then put out RFP for customizing/implementing.


  • Long complex RFP processes often a waste of time.
  • Short RFP (5-10) pages make a lot more sense,
  • Some vendors refuse to respond to RFP's, unless there is an existing relationship


  • We are in bad cycle of RFP abuse
  • Lots of web site vendors won't respond to RFPs


  • What do non-profits think about contracts


  • Contracts help define relationship and build it out


  • Contract is valuable symbol, memorializes

Robert Always write a proposal for clients, and always write a scope of work * different from RFP


  • RFP has a bad stamp to it


  • Idealware is a non-profit that provides information on software
  • Two methodologists
 * look at what a market [set of features] looks like
 * find 5-10 experts, interview them, find out what considerations are, market leading products
  • Detailed tool comparison reports (example, doing grant management tools)
 * 10-20 people 
 * Vendor demos are followed by creation of rubric
 * Nonprofits could use variation of this method


  • Method depends on size of org. large orgs bring in the vendors to demo the software. smaller orgs (<20 staff) do informal research.


  • How do we find out the top 3 software choices for list mgmt?

[Name] How do I find references?

  • Ask vendors for references
  • Check out social source commons, socialsourcecommongs.org
  • Just google and find references, then follow up by a email.


I don't have time to join all these groups and do all this research. How do I get answers quickly.

  • Look at market leaders
  • Find something good enough


How to pick calendar sharing application Look at

  • Cost
  • Ease of use
  • Ease to implement
  • Interoperability with outlook
  • Low support burden, no extra work for technies.

Laura and Dyana

How do we define needs? What is your system for coming up with a checklist?


  • We are not that systematic, we are intuitive


  • Even though we are more structured, we have lots of false starts


  • Sit down and have a meeting, make a proposal for something that meets your needs


  • This is a place where other people's RFPs are very useful
  • Look at other people's RFP for ideas, features to prioritize


  • Keep ongoing list of needs, problems noticed
  • Sit down with tech consultant


  • Get demos early in the process to know what is possible.


  • Adoption can be a problem, if leader doesn't drive best practices and adoption, often doesn't happen.


Have group brainstorming and prioritizing. Do a 3 hour meeting with everybody in the room, as opposed to individual meetings.


  • Knowledge of what is possible
  • Knowledge of what tools exist
  • Understanding organizational and people's needs

Seth How to rationally set a budget?

  • Look at how tech relates to mission
  • Look at how tech relates to income.
  • Look at staff time / money saved
  • Factor in if is generates income

Consultant experience of what people pay for /budget for a donor database * seems totally arbitrary.

.... Missed some stuff ....


  • Don't forget asking your peers, friends and colleagues offline. Call up people and ask them what they use.


  • Put out queries on progressive-exchange mailing list. But may get lots of private responses from vendors.