5 Considerations for Your Foundation When Evaluating Technology Providers

September 25, 2018 Annie Rhodes

Blackbaud Foundation Solutions works with foundations of all types, sizes and locations – from small community foundations, to medium-sized private foundations, to huge independent family foundations. No matter the size of the foundation, most agree that it’s their technology that keeps their office running like a clock – and keeps their philanthropic heart beating. Those that are using their technology day in and day out are always interested in tips, tricks, and improvements from their vendor-partner solution that will save time, streamline processes, give their team members the information they need and heighten their impact and outcomes. Meanwhile, these users of the technology, and providers like Blackbaud, are consistently dealing with “the other guy” – the vendor-partner who claims they are better. Lately, there is a trend with tech providers claiming that the biggest benefit of their solution is that it’s ‘simple & easy to use.’  

Even if you are a foundation that’s had the benefit of grantmaking technology and services for years, it can be confusing and overwhelming to hear these different claims. As a smaller organization that has not yet made the jump to tech and are still managing business with spreadsheets and other low-entry tech, it can be difficult to identify your biggest technology requirements, which helps to guide your decision making. 

No matter what your size, wants and needs are, the RFP, evaluation, and other processes involved with changing vendor-partners or hiring one for the first time, we believe there are five fundamental considerations for evaluating your incumbent and/or new company to keep your heart beating; they are: 

  1. Don’t always put a priority on “Simple.” Now, I’m not saying that your technology should be complex and difficult. Everyone can appreciate an easy-to-use solution that meets their daily needs. What I mean is that a simple interface should be a characteristic on your evaluation checklist, yes, but it shouldn’t be your priority. Instead, ask yourself… “Will this solution truly make our day-to-day efforts easier by scaling to support all of our workflows? Will everyone on our team be able to get the information they need and take action with that information? Will it empower my organization to go beyond our usual activities? Will it allow us to tell our story, build meaningful relationships with our communities, operate efficiently, and communicate effectively? Will it support not only our current strategy but our future strategy?    

 

  1. Don’t settle for less than a 360-degree view of your entire operation – from anywhere. Only a cloud-based, holistic grants management, payments, contact management and outcomes solution will provide you and your team access to real-time grants information the global philanthropic community from anywhere and 24/7/365. This is a must-have and will enable your team to: 

  • track and measure progress 

  • make informed decisions 

  • collaborate with all your stakeholders 

  • report and analyze on your unique data, and  

  • communicate your impact story in a consistent, proven way. 

 

  1. Technology solutions are only as good as the strength of reporting and the quality of the outputs. It’s no secret that one of the biggest (if not the biggest) advantages of having awesome cloud technology to help you and your colleagues run your day-to-day functions is the desire to push a button to generate comprehensive, easy-to-decipher progress and reports, right? Additionally, what if you could quickly and easily prepare for your board meeting, without it consuming your entire day? All of the above requires a grants management solution that allows you to see the measurable impact of your grantmaking investments through dynamic dashboards. Think for a moment about all of the time and effort you and your team devote to data input and consistency. Now think about the importance of a solution that can deliver it back to you – efficiently and accurately.    

 

  1. Make your grantees feel like they’re part of the family – Be certain that your vendor-partner can provide a grant application, custom-designed by you for your organization, with features like configurability, outcomes and group sharing. Your grant partners want collaboration and open conversations, around shared goals, outcomes, and expectations. To build stronger, closer relationships with your communities and prospective grant partners, you need a solution that can deliver.  

 

  1. “Wisdom is the daughter of experience.” - Leonardo da Vinci The companies that survive the longest are those that listen to their customers, invest heavily in R&D, grow slowly and steadily and… rinse & repeat. Be cautious of the vendor-partner who promises the moon but has a staff of 20 or even 200. Ask how many of their customers have been with them for 5, 10, 15 and 20 years or more.  Find out if their solution engineering team could fill out a team at the local softball tournament – or if it’s a team of hundreds. Or if the ‘staff’ implementing and supporting you are in fact staff or if they are external to the organization. Do you have one partner or one partner contract that is supported by a variety of companies to get you to ‘implemented’Qualities and experience provide wisdom, and wisdom leads to success. 

Also, see if they’ll give you the opportunity, at least annually, to meet and network with other customers just like you. The right answers to these questions will ensure that the vendor-partner you choose… 1) wants to invest in you and your needs as much or more than you want to invest in them, 2) has a big commitment to R&D – now and for the future, and 3) is committed to the philanthropic space  – and will not leave you hanging in any way.   

In a nutshell, including the above in your foundation’s technology RFP and evaluation process can and will save you and your colleagues potential headaches in the long run. 

 

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