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Helps you avoid common problems when choosing or commissioning a new digital tool or software. Gives you confidence to make a decision. Signposts to step-by-step guides written for charities and other small organisations.

This resource is for anyone who is responsible for identifying, choosing and introducing a new digital tool or software to their organisation.

It’s particularly useful for people who feel nervous about the process.

It covers:

  • Common issues and how to avoid them.
  • Key steps to take when you need to choose a new tool.
  • Links to guides which cover those steps in detail.

If you prefer, jump straight to the main guide provided by NCVO.

What we worry about with new software

One of the biggest causes of sleepless nights for people working in non-profits is having to choose a new digital tool or piece of software.

There are so many worries that can affect us:

  • Will it do what we need it to do?
  • Will we be able to afford it?
  • Will we understand what the sales team or technical experts are telling us?
  • Will the rest of the staff be ok with using it?
  • What about the people we support - are they going to be ok with it?
  • What if it goes wrong - how long will it take to fix it and how much will it cost?

It’s made worse because many of us have worked somewhere where a new piece of software turned out not to be so great.

Had a bad experience?

Have you ever worked somewhere that:

  • Got an expensive new CRM system to help everyone share data, that was so hard to use most teams still keep spreadsheets instead?
  • Commissioned a new website that looked beautiful, but was impossible for anyone except the person who built it to update?
  • Chose a specialised app to hold one to one support conversations, but found out later most people they worked with would rather use WhatsApp?
  • Or other similar things?

It's no a surprise that we find choosing new software stressful. It's ok if this happens to you!

5 common mistakes to avoid

The good news is that we can reduce the risk of a bad experience - by avoiding some of the most common mistakes. Here’s 5 to watch out for.

1. Don’t rely on one person’s vision

It’s difficult for one person to have a full picture of everything an organisation needs. It can be tempting to rely on one person - especially if you have someone from a digital or design background saying “this will solve all our problems”. But you’ll get a better outcome if you involve a group of people and work through a process together.

2. Don’t rush into a new piece of technology

Sometimes it feels like if you could just do something digitally it would save loads of time. Or it feels like the software you do have is so clunky it must be better to replace it. For example, maybe your teams write up case notes by hand, and then type them out into a digital system later - when they remember.

But in any situation, the digital technology is only one part of the picture of any service. The people and processes involved are just as important.

For example, in the situation above before you leap to: “we need people to make notes directly into a digital case management system” there are other angles to consider.

These include:

Is your process simple enough?

For example, do all your services need case notes, or have you got into the habit of storing them for activities where they aren't needed, because some of your services do need them.

How will the people involved feel about the new system?

In this example - would taking notes digitally feel very different to handwritten notes - both for the workers and people being supported?  Would they ever actually be prepared to use technology during sessions?

Have we run a reality check?

Check these things before you decide that you need a new digital tool:

  1. Do we actually need to do all of this thing we are currently doing? Could we stop something?
  2. Could involving different people make our existing process better?
  3. Do we understand our existing system well enough? Does it have options we're not currently using?
  4. Could there be downsides if we go for a digital solution? For example could it reduce connection between people?

3. Don’t forget any group of people who need to use the tool

It's common to consider the needs of the main group of people who will use a tool.

But it's also common to forget about the needs of people who need to be able to evaluate and report on information held in a digital tool. Different projects also forget other user groups - especially people with accessibility needs.

It can sometimes be acceptable to de-prioritise one set of needs until later in a project - but do make sure you haven’t forgotten about them altogether.

4. Don’t take too long to choose new technology

Sometimes we spend too long considering what the right answer should be. We hold stakeholder meetings and gather user needs and speak to different people about possible solutions - but never make a decision.

Over time the information we have gathered goes out of date, and we have to start the whole process again.

Avoid this by thinking about the size and scale of the change you’re making. Make sure the planning and decision making time is proportionate to the risks involved. Avoid overkill.

5. Don’t get tempted by features that sound cool but that you probably won’t use yet

This can happen lots of ways:

  • A broker or sales person might tell you about an interesting feature.
  • You could read about something on a tool's marketing website.
  • One of the people you support might say “it'd be really cool if you could do x”. This is not the same as a user need. If it happens follow up their suggestion by asking why they think that and how they would use it.

However it happens, you hear about a feature that sounds really interesting. The feature isn't in your list of priority needs. You might be unsure if your teams are ready for it.

But you think you should go for the option that makes it possible.

Nine times out of ten when you go for this option you’ll end up paying for something you never use. That's because to take advantage of a feature that is outside your priorities, requires planning time and resources to figure out how it fits. And that's always going to be a challenge and a lesser priority.

So it's best not to choose that option.

Avoid mistakes by following a step-by-step plan

The way to avoid all these mistakes is to follow a step-by-step plan.

Be sure to include the following steps:

  1. Understand your project goal and plan it out
  2. Gather information about what the software or tool needs to do and prioritise those needs
  3. Get support from peers or experts to help you with next steps
  4. Choose some options and compare them
  5. Test one or more options and reflect on what you learned
  6. Carefully roll out the new tool to your teams.

Each guide linked at the end of this article take you through a similar plan, in slightly different ways. You could use one of them, or adjust to suit.

Getting support with your plan

We recommend two main resources:

  1. Choosing any kind of new software or tool? NCVO’s guide can work for you. The first sections reminds you to scale the amount of time and effort you put in depending on the risks of your project. Includes a downloadable template. View NCVO's guide.
  2. Need a new database or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system? Datawise London’s guide is focused on choosing a CRM to help with impact and evaluation, but it can be helpful whatever you need your database to do. Includes a downloadable template. View Datawise London's guide.

Get more support

A free one hour call with an expert volunteer from Digital Candle could help you set out your project plan or get a second opinion on your priorities or comparisons. Request their help.

Feel reassured by reading how other charities chose new tools

These 3 Shared Digital Guides show different perspectives on the choosing and implementing steps:


Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

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