Software is important for nonprofits, really important, in fact often times much more important than many even realize. Whether it’s used for case management, data collection, or outcomes reporting, nonprofit software is comprehensive and can be adjusted to meet the specific needs of your organization. Is your organization ready to step into the 21st century and move on from relying on Excel… Or dare I say it, the even more outdated pen and paper system?
With several choices out on the market for buying case management software, how do you know where to start? What are some key features to look for? This post will provide you and your organization with a few quick tips to consider when investing in your nonprofit’s next (or first!) case management software system.
1. Understand Who You are FIRST
First things first, figure out what you need. What information or data do you need to track? What types of data are most important? Do you need case management, volunteer tracking, outcomes reporting, or grant management? Maybe your needs are even more unique based on the services your organization provides. You have to know exactly what you are looking for in a software solution, or your search can prove to be frustrating and feel like a waste of time and energy. Know your goals, know your requirements, and know your needs. Rank them in priority order THEN begin your search.
2. All Solutions are NOT Created Equal
A sales team in the retail business, for example, would not want a system that was made for property management. Likewise, a property manager does not want to use a system originally created to track sales data for managing their tenants. Why should your nonprofit use a system created for anything other than nonprofits? Choosing a solution that is not specialized for nonprofits will cause delays in implementation and will not be user-friendly. Systems created for nonprofits will also have service representatives precisely trained to understand the needs of your organization.
3. Look Beyond the Product Features
A product is only as good as the company behind it. If you can’t use it, or if it isn’t backed by great support, extensive training, and a stellar implementation team, then features alone won’t get you closer to tracking what matters. Take a hard look at the company’s reputation and their support structure. Do they offer implementation services? Do they have free trainings? The solution you buy should be just that — a “solution” that will fulfill your needs, helps you satisfy your goals, and ultimately helps you deliver more mission.
4. Do Not Spend Unnecessarily!
We get it. Nonprofits are always strapped for cash, time, and resources. When you are thinking about investing in a technology solution, consider the total cost of that investment. Many solutions are cloud-based or SaaS (software as a service) solutions. That means you don’t need any physical hardware or a software package, all you need is an Internet connection. With a SaaS model, your organization always has the most up-to-date version of the solution available without requiring your own IT support, upgrade, downtime, or version control.
5. Is it Flexible?
If you’re like most nonprofits, you have a set of processes and procedures that help keep everything organized and running as smoothly as possible. It is important to find a case management software solution that allows you to tailor it to your workflow. Rigid systems limit your ability to organize data in the specific way that you need it. Make sure the solutions you are evaluating enable you to create forms, categories, labels, emails, reports, and outcomes to suit your specific needs. This will help streamline your organization’s management and reporting efficiency.
6. Make Security a Priority
If you’re concerned about compliance, client privacy, or staff management, make sure you know and understand the security features of your potential solution. Not only should the solutions that you’re assessing have uptime guarantees and standard data protection features, but they should have form and record-level security access permissions to ensure that your staff and volunteers see only the data appropriate for their tasks. This allows your organization to stay in compliance with state and federal regulations.
7. Comprehensive Data Reporting
Data makes the world go round, and your data is no different. It helps you optimize programs, prove impact, achieve more funding, and so much more. Collecting data in and of itself is not enough. You have to be able to use that data to demonstrate you are making a difference. Make sure that your new solution offers many valuable views and easily prepared reports of your data. If you cannot visualize and graph the data you need into organized reports for internal decision-making and external reporting, your organization’s story will be harder to tell.
8. Size Does Matter
A one-size-fits-all approach does not work when it comes to case management software. Nonprofits range in size from just one, to thousands of staff spread across the country. Buying a solution that doesn’t give you what you need is wasteful and can be expensive. Flexibility is the key. You need to be able to buy the features, seat licenses, and service plans without running the risk of blowing your budget on unnecessary items.
9. Free isn’t Always Free
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Beware of the solution providers that offer too much for free. Many cheap or free nonprofit software solutions have limited feature sets. The “add-on” or customization that you will inevitably need usually comes with a hefty price tag. Customer service may also be lacking with these free solutions. Keep all of this in mind as you make your decision on which case management software is the right solution for your nonprofit.
10. A Stake in the Game
Some solution providers are founded by former nonprofit executives and caseworkers and are still run on those nonprofit principles today. While not every company can remain in touch with the needs of the nonprofit world, it is important to know the ones that are. Do your research. Look up the company, look up the founder. Where does the company come from? What are their roots? Some of these questions will help you better answer if this is a solution and a company that has your best interests in mind and will be there for you in the long run.