Civic Engagement and Advocacy Blog

Evaluating Advocacy Software, an Admittedly Biased View – Part One

Posted by Brent Willis on 9/4/15 11:26 AM

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Technology... LOVE it or HATE it...

It is what it is—critically important.

computer-keyboardSo, the question is, "How do I evaluate the many options on the market and not make a critical mistake?" Well, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that mistakes aren't usually revealed until after the license agreement is signed. The good news is that we're going to try and help you with some questions to ask prior to that agreement being signed, so everyone's on the same page. But, how to decide among different software platforms, especially if you don't have a technology-minded staff? We're going to try and help.

Before we get to the questions you should be asking, we need to examine the structure of your organization and how you make purchasing decisions. This often determines how you're buying in the first place.

Technology is a necessity in today's fast-paced business environment and it's becoming a bigger part of an organization's budget. Due to its ever increasing importance, I wanted to try and help you navigate the sometimes choppy waters of software evaluation. So, this first post deals with organizational silos and the mistakes I see organizations make when purchasing software.

Organizational silos—and their negative impact.

Is your organization a collection of isolated silos? Uh oh... This structural limitation can affect how you make purchases and it can be costly. Different software platforms are necessary for different parts of the organization. There can be applications for marketing, member management, advocacy, donations, events, social media engagement, etc. You may have an AMS (Association Management System) that handles many aspects of your business. If you do, that's a good thing. But, you may not... You may still have to rely on third party software to accomplish some tasks; PAC contributions, donations, and advocacy, to name a few. What happens when all this software is licensed and runs in separate silos within the organization? In a word, Confusion. And, if there's confusion, there's inefficiency, which costs time, resources, and money. Not a good thing for any organization, nonprofit or otherwise.

I see organizations make these mistakes when acquiring software:
  • The organization itself is built in silos and they purchase software the same way. Each department (silo) has its own sofware for its own purpose. Little, if any, integration exists among applications and therefore departments, at least not without a lot of manual, error-prone processes. Not good.
  • There is no organizational software that runs the business, but rather a group of disparate tools that are used to handle different tasks like advocacy, events, donations, etc. Too much time is spent by staff trying to learn each one which leads to confusion, lack of efficiency and continuity. Not good. An AMS could be a good solution to consider. We can help you in your search.
  • The person in charge of buying software doesn't understand the organization's goals well enough to understand how the software can/will impact the overall mission. This person doesn't have the authority or understanding of the mission to know the correct questions to ask. This usually takes more staff time, more meetings and more demos. Not good.

Does any of this sound familar? If so, and if you have the capacity and authority, you might want to address some of these structural issues before going on a software purchasing binge. Clearly, there needs to be a better process in place. With all the different areas of the organization being impacted, how do you evaluate these platforms? What types of questions should you, or your delegate, be asking in order to get the correct infomation so you and your team can make the best decisions? These are things we will examine in a Part 2 post.

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Brent Willis

Written by Brent Willis

People want to be heard other then just voting every 2,4, or 6 years. Groups that engage them and measure it are positioned to win the public policy battles of the future. My vision and mission is to revive the civic engagement of the American citizen in government relations; at the federal, state, and local level.

Topics: advocacy software, membership management