We sat down recently with Joyce LeBombard, the President of the League of Women Voters Austin Area, to talk about the process her organization went through to select a software system. Joyce and the League of Women Voters Austin Area (LWV-AA), the largest League of Women Voters chapter in Texas, have agreed to let us follow them through their implementation and share their story with other organizations who might be going through the same process. We started by discussing how they made their system selection in the first place.
Making the decision to look for a new nonprofit system
Joyce told us that the organization had been thinking of putting a system in place for a few years, but as an all-volunteer organization the time needed for the project was hard to come by. 2020 is a huge year for the League of Women Voters, and they knew they would need a system that could handle their donors, supporters, and volunteers all in one place. Not only is 2020 a presidential election year and a census year - both of which create a lot of activity for the organization - but, it is also the organization's 100th birthday! All League of Women Voters organizations are gearing up and getting ready for a very busy 2020.
Coming up with a short-list: Identifying the best nonprofit software options
In the past, the LWV-AA had looked at volunteer management systems and even association management systems, but it became clear that they needed an integrated supporter engagement platform that included CRM and fundraising capabilities. They spoke with other nonprofit organizations, did research online, and discovered that there are a lot of software options out there! They were able to quickly cut the initial list by more than half, however, by removing applications that did not provide a complete platform, were too small, or otherwise didn't fit basic requirements. Using their requirements list and reviewing their system strategy resulted in selecting a handful of systems for full, detailed evaluations.
Requirements used for software selection
We asked Joyce what criteria was used to narrow down the list. She told us that the organization came up with an initial list of "basic requirements," which included the following categories:
- Vendor Requirements: LWV-AA wanted a partner that was growing, funded, and investing in the future. As the technology of fundraising and events changes in the future, they wanted their system to evolve in support of those changes. Vendors were required to disclose their size, scope of operations, describe their ability to support LWV, and also provide references of other clients using the proposed software. While there was no hard limit placed on required size for the vendor, LWV-AA knew that they needed to be working with a company sufficiently well-established to provide the necessary training and support for the long-term.
- System Requirements: The organization did not want a system that requires extensive consulting to implement or significant assistance to onboard new users. They do not have an IT staff, and required that the software be easily accessible from any device. They also asked that the software vendor be able to demonstrate the security of their system.
- System Strategy: The LWV-AA team clearly laid out their strategy for implementing and using the system. They focused on the importance of being able to bring new users on-board simply and quickly. They wanted a system with established best practices to allow LWV-AA to "scale-out" as they grow and add users.
- Cost: Understanding the overall system cost was extremely important. Systems that were outside of the organization's budget range were removed quickly (including systems that seemed too inexpensive).
- Single Provider: Joyce and the team and LWV-AA wanted all of the functionality in a single product, not a set of partnered products. They wanted a single point of contact and support. If specific functionality, such as payment processing or hosting were involved, they wanted their supplier to own any required troubleshooting or support needs.
They also put together a detailed functional requirements list and project goals, along with these basic system requirements that they used to evaluate systems. Learn more about running a software selection project.
Joyce told us that the decision to select Salsa came down to a few things:
- The Salsa platform was more user-friendly than the others they were looking at. This is extremely important to them because they are an all-volunteer organization that frequently has new people using their systems.
- They were impressed with the Salsa Scholars program and online training videos that help users get up and running quickly. They were looking for a system that would allow them to inherit built-in best practices.
- Salsa had more of the major features they were looking for - such as fundraising, CRM, and advocacy tools - built-in to the core system.
"We ranked Salsa highest in ease-of-use among all of the systems we looked at. Combined with their Salsa Scholars program, we felt that our all-volunteer staff would have the best opportunity to get up to speed quickly and easily."
Lessons Learned: Involving nonprofit staff in software selection
Joyce said that because they had started down this road before, she was hesitant to bring too many people into the process too early. She would encourage other organizations looking at new software to bring team members into the process early, though, to see software demos and give input. LWV-AA is now going through their implementation and some users are seeing the system for the first time, which stretches out the learning process a bit.
Advice for other Nonprofits: The importance of a software selection plan
Joyce strongly encourages other organizations going through a software selection to make sure they understand the details before they commit to a new system. "Don't be afraid to insist on answers to your questions - especially when it comes to how the software company delivers services." Be sure you understand exactly what is included, what kind of support and training is included in the cost of the software, and what other clients typically pay for outside of what is being quoted.
The Salsa team was truly impressed with the thoroughness and thoughtfulness with which the League of Women Voters Austin Area approached their software selection process. We will be following them through their implementation and look forward to seeing what they can do with the Salsa platform!