(This is an expanded version of my 9/12/08 post)
For over four years, I’ve helped my nonprofit organization to develop and manage online fundraising and marketing initiatives to generate over $15 million in revenues using two leading nonprofit vendors.
How do you know which product is right for you?
1. Before arranging for vendor presentations, decide which applications are most important to you. While it is helpful to work with a firm that can handle multiple needs, e.g. online events, email marketing, content management, usually a vendor that tries to do ‘everything’ will have some modules that are great but others that are mediocre. If online fundraising is your primary goal, select products that focus on this objective.
2. Does the vendor take the time to listen to your needs before recommending solutions?
3. Can the vendor implement within your timeframe? A consulting firm once walked away from potential work because they didn’t feel comfortable about meeting our deadline. It’s much better to find this out before you get started then when it’s too late to change course.
4. Do you plan to integrate data with an offline fundraising database that you already use? Integration can be a very time consuming task; make sure the vendor has successfully completed integration projects with other clients which use the same software as your nonprofit.
5. Find out who will project manage your implementation. You want someone who is well versed with the applications you will be using and who is able to arrange the resources you need to get the project done on time and on budget. Ask to interview this person early or ask to speak with other clients who have recently worked with him/her.
Once you pick a product, how can you maintain a successful relationship with your vendor?
1. Take advantage of any training that is available to learn the product. This enables you to deal with issues more quickly and allows you to more effectively work with support staff
2. Develop a rapport with your account / project manager or whoever handles your relationship. This includes asking not only how the vendor can help you, but includes what your responsibilities are in using the product and dealing with the vendor’s staff.
3. Document problems online, ideally with a support system that can be accessed by both nonprofit staff and vendor support staff. If your vendor doesn’t provide this, use your own tracking system, and, if possible, make it available to the vendor.
4. Be respectful about prioritizing issues. If a problem is affecting a major application and / or many of your co-workers, make sure the vendor knows this and use escalation procedures. (Make sure you specifically ask about how to escalate issues.) If you make every problem into an ‘emergency,’ then nothing will be treated as a high priority.
5. When rolling out a new application, be sure to test exhaustively. This includes filling out and submitting all forms, reviewing auto replies and testing different scenarios. Make sure the vendor has a ‘test drive’ mechanism available.
6. Consult with other nonprofits that are using the product and take advantage of any online forums (either promoted by the vendor or not) to learn from others and share your own experiences.
7. Avoid criticizing your vendor to internal staff. Even if you’re feeling frustrated on a particular day, don’t vent to your co-workers; you want them to feel positively about the product you’ve selected despite any occasional glitches that come up.
8. Regardless which area you work in, make sure that multiple departments within your organization have access to the vendor’s support staff, and are kept updated on status of your implementation.
9. Be aware of when system upgrades will be performed, and how your applications will be affected. Make sure you’re notified well in advance of planned enhancements or product fixes.
10 .For optimal results, approach your relationship as a partnership. While it’s important to be clear what is expected from the vendor, you also need to be able to devote time of your organization’s staff to learn and work with the application. Rather than looking for ways to blame the other party when things go wrong, instead focus on how you can find a quick resolution and minimize inconvenience to your constituents.