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Are you crowdsourcing your next software purchase?.

  • 1.  Are you crowdsourcing your next software purchase?.

    Posted Nov 29, 2018 12:26
    Hi friends,
    One of my favorite things about our awesome nonprofit community is the variety of ways I can connect with other accidental techies - people who are struggling with the same things that I am.  But there's one particular question that pops up multiple times per day:
    "Has anyone used Platform X, and do you like it?"

    Every time I read a question like this, I'm ready to jump in with some practical wisdom - because crowdsourcing your software search is kind of a bad idea. But the question gets asked so often (and in so many places), that if I responded to each person individually I would never get any work done.

    Rather than explode with pent-up advice, I wrote a blog post instead: Looking for new nonprofit software? Be sure you use the right process!

    Phew - I feel better now! :)

    Maureen Wallbeoff
    Digital Strategist & Technology Coach
    Tech Accelerate

  • 2.  RE: Are you crowdsourcing your next software purchase?.

    Posted Nov 29, 2018 13:04
    Thanks, Maureen. I agree 100%. I've been evangelizing this point for years and hope you can end this approach to software selection.


    Robert L. Weiner Consulting
    San Francisco, CA
    Twitter: @robert_weiner

    Strategic Technology Advisors to Nonprofit and Educational Institutions

    Tech Accelerate

  • 3.  RE: Are you crowdsourcing your next software purchase?.

    Posted Nov 30, 2018 11:20
    Hi Maureen, I certainly agree with you.

    As a consultant dedicated to helping nonprofits with securing their best software fit, this approach and common practice is rarely successful tor the person asking for assistance from their peers in threaded discussion format.

    There are so many other good peer to peer software review sites (maybe to many) set up intended and structured in scientific ways to help understand the value of software products. A forum venue, if used solely or  as primary source, certainly will not facilitate the best results.

    Your point on your blog about "Opinion Without Context Is Dangerous" is so so true too. A software buyer should never, never, never use as your only basis feedback from peers for making a software decision. As you say, there is "The Right Time for Opinions".  And, peer sites certainly are valuable when used correctly.

    There is certainly no silver bullet to finding your best software fit. Or, easy button. Or, one best software fit for everyone. And, everyone is unique. You have to take the right steps and get to the best decision with a solid decision making process.

    But, I must admit that I don't believe entirely that when someone does post a "crowdsourcing" query on a site like this that they are a complete waste.Nor, does it raise my feathers with anger so to speak either.

    Why? Let me explain my humble opinion a bit below.

    What typically happens when a "crowdsourcing software" post is made:

    • There are hundreds possibly thousands of peers who take notice when a product questions is posed. This is not a bad thing. 
    • Through a forum query you will be able to connect with software users who are using many platforms or maybe not. Information which is valuable to know either way. You will likely find "raving fans" & "upset clients" for sure. There are rarely anyone in between right.....But, again, not a bad thing if used appropriately in your search process. In fact, I find great value in both sides of the spectrum when I evaluate with a discerning an realistic perspective.
    • Perhaps, one may be able to set up offline discussions to discuss your use case scenarios with peers offline or directly.  
    • Software vendors may benefit too when they see bad comments and address (offline hopefully). 
    • Software vendors usually chime in with their two cents at some point in the discussion thread too. Again, when done in the right spirit and tenor or tone not that bad either. 
    It's often how you use the data (answers) which makes the difference.

    The last point with regards to software vendors chiming in may raise some hairs. But, yes, I believe there is value in seeing a post response from software vendors. It goes back to data. If used correctly it can add value. IMHO, a response from a vendor provides a glimpse into the software vendors "culture" and "purported unique strengths".

    Their account executives, their implementation team, their management are what make up their culture. And, when "matching" up, I believe that's something to consider. People matter so much in the software success equation. Success can be said to be found in those partners you choose. And, culture is hard get a pulse on without interacting. This may be a good first chance to see that culture displayed.

    So, my two cents, on the value in these type of threads.

    But, no doubt or question, comments should never be used as your only step ( or primary) in a process to secure your best software fit.

    Good post for discussion! Thanks.

    Chad Stewart

    Tech Accelerate

  • 4.  RE: Are you crowdsourcing your next software purchase?.

    Posted Nov 30, 2018 12:10
    Good blog post - thanks for sharing!  Agree with all your points and process for vetting.  Also, that asking the community for opinions after documenting your requirements is a valuable step in that process.
    I do think asking the community before documenting requirements may provide some benefits too - such as identifying areas where you may need to define your requirements more precisely - though it does mean that you must stay vigilant in keeping your requirements independent of a product's features and/or the community opinions when documenting your requirements!

    Bryn Scott
    Salesforce Administrator
    Prosperity Now
    Washington, DC

    Tech Accelerate

  • 5.  RE: Are you crowdsourcing your next software purchase?.

    Posted Dec 01, 2018 12:45
    Such a fantastic topic close to my heart. I'm going to say something that no vendor should ever say and every consultant that gets paid to build spreadsheets of requirements will disagree with:
    • The technology/tool/software is the least important part of a software selection process. If you have 10 software options - all the ones still in business can probably get the job done.

    In fact, there is no "software selection process" there is just a "change your business process" process (or if you prefer, a "change your mission process" process).

    Maureen's steps cover that process, but I'll challenge them slightly. (By the way, nice to meet you virtually & fantastic post Maureen!)

    (1) Identify the problems. Maureen's point is spot on - "would a new system fix this?"

    One of my favorite observations about software adoption in any industry is that the customer NEVER considers themselves one of the potential problems -- the software is just suppose to solve the problems. I was with a large nonprofit working through issues they had with our expense reports... the CEO's problem was that the software was not telling them in real time what their expenses were in the right categories. We worked the issue and the root cause was that employees weren't entering expense reports in a timely fashion. So we proposed to the steering comittee that employees be required to enter expense reports every month. They said no & continued to identify this as a problem the software should fix. As soon as we roll out a feature that can read minds, we'll get on that :) -- the marketing guys can start talking about AI.

    But it can be very challenging for a nonprofit to answer such a seemingly simple question as "would a new system fix this?" The sales folks says it will, so it will, right? If the salesperson spend 10 hours with your organization deeply understanding your operations, maybe they are right. If they said it in their first 30 minutes talking to you, not so credible.

    (2) Document your requirements. "your job is to write down everything you need a new system to do" I would redefine this as your job is to write down everything in your organization that will be better .... document your business objectives (or mission objectives, if you prefer).

    If you write down features, it will go something like this...
    FEATURES: I need power steering, leather seats, a moon roof, a bose sound system, etc.
    OBJECTIVE: I need to transport my kid to school every day.

    If you started with the objective, you have an option of a bike & a trailer for $1000. If you started with the requirements, your only option is a Cadillac for $50,000.

    (3) Manage the demo cycle. Right on. Make the vendor show you *how* you are going to achieve your objective & make sure you believe you can achieve the objective. But don't make a bunch of check boxes & scoring sheets & feature lists - it just confuses everyone.

    (4) & (5) Gather data & purchase. Right on!

    (6) The missing step. I met a CIO that spent 50% of the project budget AFTER purchasing the software and implementation. They achieved their objectives & their users LOVED their IT department. So if the software & implementation are going to cost you $10k. Add 10k to the budget for change management, training, support, follow up & everything else. If the vendor budget goes from $10k to $15k, your total project budget just went from $20k to $30k.

    David Geilhufe
    Senior Director Social Impact
    Oracle Netsuite

    Tech Accelerate

  • 6.  RE: Are you crowdsourcing your next software purchase?.

    Posted Dec 02, 2018 22:05
    Really enjoying the discussion!

    Great post, Maureen!  I completely agree that the "Has Anyone Ever Used Platform Banana?" approach to CRM selection is risky. The only way I see "crowdsourcing your CRM selection" to be of value is when you've gathered your requirements, done your homework, narrowed down your selection, and need detailed opinions on a specific set of features i.e. "Does Banana Volunteer Management allow volunteers to log their own hours?"  Or "Does Pear Event Management allow you to register guest attendees?"  Other than that, the answers you'll get on the forums are very subjective.  And if there's one thing I've learned from consulting in the nonprofit sector, is that you never assume two nonprofits do things the same wayeven if they call it the same thing (soft credits!)
    I also agree with David that a different software/tool is rarely the "silver bullet" and few nonprofits consider their own broken processes as part of the problem (bold move, my friend!).  I would go as far to say that sometime the tools and processes are right, but the staff is not trained properly or simply does not have a culture that embraces new technology…or "change" in general.
    In my experience, evaluating CRM (or any software) needs to consider all three facets - people, process, and technology.  This can be a lot to unpack, and this is where consultants (or trusted advisors) can help.  Not all of us get paid to build spreadsheets of requirements 😃


    Rubin Singh
    Founder & CEO, OneTenth Consulting

    Tech Accelerate

  • 7.  RE: Are you crowdsourcing your next software purchase?.

    Posted Dec 03, 2018 10:59
    Preach, Maureen!

    A related challenge is that of process maturity. Many organizations struggle to articulate anything but the most general, top-line requirements, because their processes are either not fully cooked, or they're so bound up in an older system or way of doing business that it's hard to imagine what life could be like in some other system.

    To a large extent, the 'crowdsource' question is a question about happiness, not fit. That happiness of working with a data system that supports you comes from the successful marriage of policy, process, people and technology. Selecting the right system is the result of building the right relationship between those elements. The software doesn't create those relationships on its own, and at best, a selection process can catalyze rebuilding those relationships.

    Isaac Shalev
    Stamford CT

    Tech Accelerate

  • 8.  RE: Are you crowdsourcing your next software purchase?.

    Posted Dec 02, 2018 22:22
    Perfectly said.

    Nicole Richards
    Development, Partnerships and Projects

    Tech Accelerate

  • 9.  RE: Are you crowdsourcing your next software purchase?.

    Posted Dec 03, 2018 11:31
    Thanks for a great discussion-- and Maureen, thanks for the post that started it all.

    Everyone involved in nonprofit tech can agree on most (if not all) of what's been said here. And many people understand good practices at some level. So why is crowd-funding still a go-to approach to software selection? Or more broadly, why don't people follow good practices?

    This is a symptom of broader issues that affect many social-sector organizations:

    Size & complexity of the software marketplace
    The software space has exploded over the past 5 years. How do we even develop vendor shortlists when there are dozens or in some verticals literally hundreds of options?

    Organizations like NTEN, TechSoup & Idealware can help people sift through the mayhem, but they can't keep up with the growth. And consultants (I am one of them) face similar limitations.

    Capacity of orgs to adopt good practices
    We don't need NTEN's Nonprofit Technology Staffing and Investments Report (a good read, BTW) to understand the tech-related budget & staffing constraints faced by many social sector organizations. We all live it. We can have all the best practices in the world, but if we lack enough staff (or money for consultants) to implement the practices, we fall back on shortcuts.

    Until the philanthropic community invests properly in this kind of capacity building (and capacity building in general) we'll make only incremental progress.   And that's OK.  Incremental progress is better than no progress.  And consultants (most people on this thread so far) have both the knowledge of best practices and the experience in helping orgs make incremental progress. So let's keep at it!


    Steve Fleckenstein
    social sector digital capacity builder
    Arlington, VA

    Tech Accelerate

  • 10.  RE: Are you crowdsourcing your next software purchase?.

    Posted Dec 03, 2018 12:16
    Hi all,

    You are speaking to a challenge that I care passionately about - and I'd be remiss not to share again the Making Wise Decisions toolkit  that the S.H. Cowell Foundation sponsored to help nonprofits avoid falling into this pit (disclosure: I'm co-author).  While we all know that just adopting your colleague's system could be a fatal error,  and that we must encourage the nonprofits we know to look inward and avoid thinking software is the solution to all their ills.  But let's be also talk about the fact that many have to pay for outside expertise to figure out the process and find a guide/templates for their work.  And if they weren't planning well in the first place, they are unlikely to have the budget to bring on a consultant to get rolling - similar to what Steve just posted about capacity and staffing.

    If you have other resources that you think help them see the full scale of the process, and guide them along, please share those.  We'd be happy to add them to the resources section of the Making Wise Decisions website, and potentially in a future version of the guide.


    Betsy Block
    B3 Consults
    Oakland, CA

    Tech Accelerate

  • 11.  RE: Are you crowdsourcing your next software purchase?.

    Posted Dec 04, 2018 09:38
    Wow! I'm thrilled with the discussion that arose after my friendly yet rant-ish post last week.
    I hope we haven't scared anyone away who *might* have been just about to ask for opinions about specific software!

    Your insightful and useful comments got me thinking about WHY we turn to our trusted communities when we're in the market for new or replacement systems:
    • There isn't a "Kelly's Blue Book" type of resource for nonprofit tech (this isn't like buying a car, although it feels very similar). 
    • The market is constantly changing - new products pop up frequently (not to mention the new functionality added to existing products).
    • Nonprofit staff are usually reacting to the need for a fast move to a new system, with no time for proper research (we have to add P2P functionality yesterday).
    • We like hearing the hot gossip about different platforms in a safe space (a bit of social proof mixed with a thrilling tale).
    • We expect that our experience will mirror those of our peers (to use another car analogy, this is why the term "Your mileage may vary" was coined).
    I'll continue to explore these questions in upcoming blog posts - and I welcome your comments, push back, and more of this kind of open conversation.

    Thanks again, and have a great day!

    Maureen Wallbeoff
    Digital Strategist & Technology Coach

    Tech Accelerate