In our first post on this topic, we provided guidance on the questions to ask of your rescue organization BEFORE you even start to do any research on a program , so that you understand exactly what you will need and can make quicker work of actually finding and locking down a solution.
In this entry, we’ll focus on how to go about identifying software companies that might be a good fit for your organization and, once you do, how to evaluate them in a consistent way, to ensure you pick the best software for your rescue group!
Start your research engines!
OK, you’ve identified what you need a software to do (hopefully without developing too long a list of “features”) and are ready to look for a program that can address these needs. But where do you start looking? There are a few pretty obvious (and maybe not so obvious) ways to do this.
First...ask around (but do this “specifically”)!
You might have expected to see ‘google it’ at the top of this list (and that’s coming :) but often some of the best places to start is to simply ask others, who have similar needs to you, what types of programs they use. WOM (or ‘word of mouth’) remains one of the most powerful marketing features out there for companies because - you've guessed it - we are more likely to trust the solutions we've been recommended by people than something we have found randomly on our own. So ask around!
The ‘specifically’ part kicks in here because you want to be very detailed in your ask so people can’t interpret it in different ways. For example, if you post a quick note on Facebook that says “looking for animal rescue software” some of your friends/followers might think you mean a public-facing site like Petfinder; others might not even know what you mean! So come up with 2-3 sentences that succinctly, yet robustly describe what you are looking for.
Here’s an example of what a post within an animal rescue community group on FB might look like:
“Hi friends! Looking to make it easier for me and my co-founders to track the location of our animals as they move around foster homes. Specifically need to know addresses and emails of fosters and, ideally, be able to give them a list of tasks to do after they get the animal home. Don’t want to use spreadsheets anymore so thinking of a software program? Any thoughts? Bonus if you know its max price is $1,000/year”
You’ll notice here that the ask wasn’t too vague and made it clear, at a minimum, what the product needs to do. And while a max budget was mentioned, it wasn’t locked down to a hard number (like $20/month, etc) that might automatically have ruled out some good solutions from coming in.
Also, while your network for a software solution for your rescue group might naturally seem like other animal rescuers, you’d be surprised by who might know of a good solution. So when we say ask around, we really mean AROUND! Whether it’s people at your day job, church, kid’s school, a sports league you are involved in, you name it - consider just throwing the ask out there and seeing what comes back. You’ll be surprised at “who knows, about what” these days.
Next, look at industry resources
Before you go to Google, which can be overwhelming in what it returns, first try with a bit of a narrower base by researching solutions on “industry” sites, like the ASPCA, Humane Society, or Petfinder, if you are looking for rescue-specific solutions. Because the audience for these sites is similar to you, there’s likely to be resources already available or written about with an eye towards your needs.
For instance, PetFinder Pro lists out softwares that integrate with their system, as a starting point for understanding where to go (look who’s on the list now! ;). If you are looking for other types of software, like, say, email marketing software or a social media management program, try more generic software review sites, like capterra or even reddit.
Finally, move to a search engine (or, “Google it!”)
Once you’ve exhausted your targeted options, throw your search out to the masses via a search engine like Google or Yahoo. For instance, if you are looking for donor management software, typing in the phrase, ‘donor management software’ might be a good start. Or, if there are certain qualities you want the program to have (like easy to use) you might add those to the search to see what it picks up, like “easy to use donor management software.”
In all the above results, you want to jot down the names of the companies you have found, and their websites and maybe a few notes. But collect all the names and info first before diving too in-depth, to avoid being biased by the first solution you come across.
Softwares ID’d, now begin your outreach
Through the above research, you’ve likely come across upwards of 10 programs or so that seem, at a first glance, like they might be what you are after (and you've diligently added them to your evaluations spreadsheet.) Now is the time to dive in and evaluate each one. But what exactly does this evaluation stage look like? A lot of that depends on how complex the software itself will be and, therefore, if the purchase is likely to be more transactional in nature or more relationship-based.
Softwares programs that are made for relatively simple use cases (like email marketing) are not going to be difficult to learn and so will likely be fairly transactional to purchase: just find one, try it, buy it, and be done. BUT, software that might power your entire accounting team is likely to be more complex and might require you to get to know the salesperson at the company that makes accounting software before you feel comfortable enough to invest it in. We know this might seem a little theoretical so let’s dive into each type and see where the differences lie.
Transaction-based software purchases
Usually, for very common needs (like our email marketing example above), the programs available to buy are fairly “commoditized”, meaning most fundamentally work the same way. As such, you might notice that on these types of sites, you can likely just purchase the program directly on that company’s website (or even getting a free version of the software if your organization is small enough). Here’s an example from the email software Benchmark.
Reaching out via email and trying to have a conversation with a person at the company will be less relevant (and perhaps not even possible!). But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still evaluate programs like these thoroughly. The approach might just be more direct, and perhaps look something like this:
Day 1: Sign up for 3 software programs from Companies A, B, and C
Day 2: Use software Company A software, taking notes on how the software performs on the criteria you identified after working through the exercise in the previous blog post (this sheet for reference)
Days 3 and 4: Repeat Day 2 but with the other companies’ programs
Day 5 (or however long you need): Consult with peers (if warranted) and select a program to purchase
Day 6: Buy the program you decide will be best for your organization (pay annually get discount **hint** most companies offer 10-20% off a software license if you buy the year in advance versus paying monthly!)
In other words, what the above demonstrates if that you have set aside dedicated time to try each solution, evaluated all of them using the SAME criteria, and then asked yourself which one you (and your colleagues) are most likely to use and be happy with. Assuming the price isn’t prohibitive, choose that one. And, even if the price seems a bit high or a stretch, if the program is really that much better than the others (it has more ‘value’) then it’s better to try to find the money to buy it versus settling for a solution that you might not even use well and that, over time, will actually be a waste of your money.
Partnership (or Relationship-based) Software Buying
If you are looking for a program that is fundamentally more complex in nature, perhaps because what you need it to do is very technical or involves complicated process (like an accounting software), chances are you will want to have a conversation with someone at the company that makes the software and have lots of time to test the program before committing to buying it (since once it’s integrated into the way you run your rescue, it will be more difficult to ‘rip and replace’ later on).
Conversations - email, phone, or both - can reveal a lot of things, from ‘soft’ factors like professionalism and demeanor to ‘harder’ evaluation criteria like terms of the contract. And, if you compare animal rescue groups to businesses, no business ever purchases complex software without some type of formal RFP (request for proposal) process, which will involve a conversation somewhere along the way.
Thus, while the evaluation path might start out similar to the above one we used to look at transactional purchases, before you begin using any more complex program (even on a trial basis) it is recommended to reach out and ask for time to speak with that company.
Look for a sign-up form, ‘info’ section with email (like email@example.com), or ‘pop-up’ sign-up on the company’s website. (You can also try messaging the company via LinkedIn or Facebook). Typically, you just submit your email address on the site, and then it will be up to the vendor to be in touch. Sometimes you can send a note first. Either way, at some point you’ll exchange an email, and so it’s important to frame up the conversation to help make the process more efficient overall.
A SUPER simple, but solid email template to start with might be something like,
Hi [VENDOR NAME],
I am looking for a software program that can [INSERT YOUR TOP 3-5 NEEDS IN BULLET FORMS]. I reviewed your website but still have several questions [LIST QUESTIONS]. May you please reply by [DATE, TIME]?”
[NAME and CONTACT INFO, including phone].
While you wait for a reply, you can continue to evaluate the company, and other programs, and reach out to them as well. When you do hear back, look for a few things, such as:
How long does it take the company to reply? With a day? Or a week? There’s no ‘right or wrong’ but typically the sooner the reply the more active the company is in terms of checking in and staying on top of their inbound leads
Do they answer your questions honestly? And, if the software cannot do what you need it to, does the company acknowledge that while also providing alternative solutions?
Does the company offer to have a phone conversation to explain answers in more detail? If not proactively, if you ask for one, is someone willing to get on the phone with you?
Then, when you do get on the phone, be prepared to discuss not just your email, but additional topics like:
Ask for client references and testimonials. Better yet, secure contact information so you can have a conversation with one of the company’s customers directly, without their involvement at all
Ask for pricing and a standard contract / agreement. Be sure to understand the fine print, like confidentially, data ownership, and terms of support. Also, check the cancellation policy (for example some software will not export data if you leave the system)
Ask for a detailed “product roadmap” over the next year to understand how the software will improve (or not) over time. Technology changes so fast these days that most software companies have at least a 1-2 year backlog of improvements to make, features to add, etc
After you’ve had the opportunity to discuss, in realtime with a company representative, the above points, you’ll likely be given (or should be given) some trial period to test out the program and validate that it will work for your organization technically (i.e. it will integrate with any systems you might need it to, etc) as well as functionally (i.e. people want to, and WILL, use it).
Then, just like the purchase path for ‘simpler’ programs, be sure to take the time to really use the program and ask questions if you have them.
Often times, people sign up for demos and never take the time to really use the program or, if they do, don’t dive in thoroughly enough. But for big software purchases, it’s risky - and costly - to not make sure you are 100% confident that you have made the right selection. Once you and your organization have aligned on which program will be best given your unique operations, go ahead and buy!
Alright, you’ve made it through your research, evaluation, and purchasing! Well done! We know it’s a lot of work (maybe as tiresome as bottle feeding puppies or kittens!) BUT, just like adopting out an animal to the right home prevents returns in the future, similarly, putting software you want to buy through some type of ‘application/evaluation’ process will ensure long-term success for your organization!
We hope this post has helped you to understand the difference between the type of software you might need and how your evaluation plan might vary as a result. Lookout for our next post on how to introduce the software to your organization and ensure you get everyone using it the right way (and, bonus points for making them happy in the process!)
But, in the meantime, if you ever have any questions, as always, never hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy software-ing!