The 4 Phases of a Fundraising Software Evaluation

6 min
software evaluation
William Schmidt
Will Schmidt

If the time is right to choose a new fundraising software, you need to hold a software evaluation to determine what’s best for your organization. It may appear to be a somewhat simple task at first glance, but there are many details lurking just beneath the surface.

One of Classy’s enterprise solution engineers, Kate Norton, has been a part of hundreds of software evaluations. Her experience with these processes has shown her what works really well for organizations and what doesn’t.

To help you make the most of your own software evaluation, and come out confident that you chose the best option, we sat down with Kate to learn more from her expert guidance. Below, we’ll walk you through the process from planning, setting priorities, meeting with vendors, and holding a final evaluation.

1. Prepare

Image of Kate Norton, Enterprise Solutions Engineer

If you don’t do well on the planning piece of a software evaluation, it often results in the wrong decision—or no decision—being made.”

Kate Norton
Enterprise Solutions Engineer

Before you ever meet with a vendor, you need to prepare. Step one is, simply, know your budget. Once it’s set and approved, take a look at your organization to determine what your main objectives are with this new software.

For example, maybe you want to improve the donor experience, increase conversions on checkout pages, or reinvent your DIY fundraising program. In any case, a defined set of objectives will carry you through the rest of the evaluation process. This is your true North Star.

Without this direction, you could potentially run into roadblocks that will cost you time and money. The worst-case scenario is to get all the way to the end of an evaluation process only to realize one of your must-have requirements isn’t going to be met.

Aside from gathering your list of requirements, it’s also important to get key internal stakeholders involved in the process early. This helps ensure your organization comes to a buying decision together as one unit, rather than in siloes or a fragmented state.

According to Kate, you can bucket your key stakeholders into three groups:

  • Business: This group will use the fundraising software day-in and day-out and know what will make an impact
  • IT: All software has its technical complexities that the IT team can help vet
  • Executive alignment: They look at the impact this software purchase has on the entire business, alignment with the company direction, and sign

In a lot of ways, these first few steps are a brainstorm where you take input from everyone about what you want out of a new fundraising platform. Once it’s out of the ether and on paper, it’s time to narrow the focus.

“Think about this process in terms of buying a new house. First, you find out how much you have to spend. Then, you discuss what you want—hardwood floors, a kitchen island, two and a half bathrooms, and so on. Take that list and drill it down even further: what are your necessities versus what’s simply nice to have?”

Kate Norton
Enterprise Solutions Engineer

2. Prioritize

It’s time to define what your high-priority items are. When you do this early in the process, your evaluation will run much more smoothly. Kate asks us to think about it in terms of dating:

Image of Kate Norton, Enterprise Solutions Engineer

If your main objective is to get married, that’s big. Do you want to wait until the fifth or sixth date to ask if the person you’re seeing is interested in marriage? What happens if you get that far and they say, ‘no’? Now you’re down on money and time. It’s better to ask on the first date.”

Kate Norton
Enterprise Solutions Engineer

If you’re serious about getting married, you put it out on the table early. If you’re serious about choosing a software partner that will work well with your organization, you put your must-have requirements on the table early.

Always ask if your must-have requirement aligns with both your organization’s goals as well as the fundraising partner’s capability. If they’re not all in line, you need to ask yourself another question: is this really a necessary requirement for you? Or do you need to look at a different vendor?

Once you’ve set all your detailed priorities in stone, it’s time to meet with fundraising partners. As you go into this next step, always keep your newly focused list of priorities top of mind so you don’t get distracted.

3. Meet

When it comes to meeting with vendors, Kate recommends keeping your list short. At most, you should have five different vendors you’re willing to sit down with.

When you have a list of priorities to guide your organization, you can often narrow down the list of vendors easily. For example, if your highest priority is a better mobile giving experience, you can immediately exclude all the ones who don’t fit the bill.

Once you have your list, it’s time to request demos from them. It’s important that you include all key stakeholders in these demos and give them a way to provide feedback.

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Pro Tip
Make the feedback process uniform for all stakeholders. Otherwise, you may get notes verbally, on post-it notes, or not at all. Consider creating a one-sheeter that contains a detailed list of your organization’s requirements as well as space for people to jot down notes, and pass these out to each individual for the meetings.

Throughout this part of the process, remember to be patient and flexible. There will be times when meetings are rescheduled, new people want to join the demo process, or you have to move on to a different vendor.

Image of Kate Norton, Enterprise Solutions Engineer

No evaluation ever goes as planned. I have never seen anyone actually close by the time they expected to have a decision, do the demos on every date they expected to do them, or have a contract signed and executed by the date they wanted.”

Kate Norton
Enterprise Solutions Engineer

Regardless, it’s wise to allow a long runway for your organization to evaluate potential new fundraising software. Adding the pressure of time to a decision this big can cause people to lose sight of their priorities and make a purchase that hurts more than it helps.

4. Evaluate

Once you’ve seen demos from your list of potential partners, it’s time to make your final evaluation.

As always, Kate reinforces that you must keep your organization’s goals and priorities top of mind. Beyond that, make sure you evaluate more than just the software itself. Look at the people who work at your potential new vendor.

Image of Kate Norton, Enterprise Solutions Engineer

You’re going to spend a lot of time working with these people. What’s the support structure for them as employees? What’s their ultimate vision and culture? Does their culture align with your organization’s?”

Kate Norton
Enterprise Solutions Engineer

You also need to be aware of hidden costs, or the total cost of ownership. Look beyond just the subscription or up-front fees to the entire cost of fundraising on this new platform.

Make sure you’re including other required services, like CRM implementation, customizations, retainers, and maintenance fees. Further, are there volumetric increases in pricing? If you’re successful, does your organization get charged more? Would that affect your return on investment?

When you incorporate the full cost into your evaluation process, you can hopefully avoid selecting a great partner only to realize you’re over budget.

“When you buy software, think about ice cream. You’re getting vanilla. If you want to add chocolate chips, cookie dough, and Snickers, it’s going to cost you the base fee for the ice cream with additional charges on top.”

Kate Norton
Enterprise Solutions Engineer

And when you do it right, you’ll walk out of the ice cream store with a great selection that satisfies you. The only thing left to do is dot your Is and cross your Ts.

A fundraising software evaluation has a lot of moving pieces behind the scenes that you need to be aware of. However, if you stick to Kate’s advice, you’ll be well-equipped to meet, evaluate, and choose a new fundraising partner that helps you succeed in whatever goal you set—big or small.

 If you’re interested in learning more about Classy and how we help thousands of organizations, request a demo now:

Request a Demo Right Now

Otherwise, take a look at the Quick Start Guide to Data-Driven Fundraising below to get a taste of some of Classy’s more in-depth features, like analytics and reporting.


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