Monday, March 24, 2014

Why I want charities to spend money on suppliers' professional services

Money Tree 
There sometimes seems to be a keenness amongst CRM/fundraising software suppliers to tell charities that they can implement their software by only spending a bare minimum on their professional services - or even none on some occasions. When I see this, I worry. Why? Because I want charities to spend money on suppliers' professional services. And there are good reasons for this:
  • First off: I think that a good supplier offers many benefits by providing professional services. They shouldn't just be a 'software company' that is giving you software and expecting you to use it just like that. I want a company who understands our sector, who gets fundraising, who can provide added value with their services. This is good for the implementation and good in the long-term. Those are the companies who will want to work with charities and enhance their software for charities over time.
  • Continuing that theme, I do think some suppliers undersell themselves in this way. I have met knowledgeable and smart people working for suppliers who I think could bring so much to a database implementation at a charity. Why wouldn't we want that?
  • The suppliers are the experts at using their software - they know their system. After all, how do you know what is the best way to do something in the supplier's software if you have only just started to use it? What is best for your charity and your situation? The money you spend with them on their services should ultimately save you time and effort, ensure you are set-up better for your fundraising/services and mean you can raise more money/dedicate more time to services.
  • You need people to help you. Someone has to. And either you buy-in contractors and specialists or you use the supplier. Implementing fundraising and CRM systems is not easy - it costs money. (Even if the software is free!)
  • And then there is data migration… except for the very smallest implementations, you are always going to need to get your data from your old system into your new system, and unless you have lots of capacity and time at your charity, and unless you know the new system well, then the best people to do this are those working for the new supplier.
  • If you are told by a supplier that you don't need professional services from them, then what are such companies actually offering that is so simple that you can apparently use it almost of-the-box with no work needed, yet so powerful that it can manage all your requirements? That's how it seems to me that some salespeople present their systems and I'm just not sure that's feasible.
  • Are the suppliers not providing any project management services to manage their side of the implementation?
  • I suppose there could be a caveat to some of this if you are a really small charity – although even then, as I have said before, such charities won’t have the in-house skills to be experts so they really need a supplier to help. 
  • The only situations where I think you might not need to spend money on a supplier's professional services are (a) where you might have a different sort of approach with open-source systems such as CiviCRM if you really have in-house experts, but for many charities they won’t and therefore they will still need the Civi Experts; and (b) similarly, if you buy something such as Salesforce, kick-off with their vanilla version and, again, you do have in-house staff who already know the system and who could then do much of the work themselves. However, even in this scenario, such staff are likely (at this point in time) to still have limited exposure to implementing large CRM system at NFPs, so there could still be the benefit of using the suppliers' professional services even in these instances.
I’m just not sure what I think about suppliers who say you can do it all yourself and don’t need their input. They are either amazing or maybe, er, not giving you the full picture…

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