"Adopting" (the RIGHT) Software for Your Rescue: A Mini-Guide

I need software for (___) but where do I begin?

If you’re reading this post, you’ve likely already come to the conclusion that your rescue group needs some help (in some way) to run better - be it more efficiently, with less stress, or some other reason. And that the form of this ‘help’ could be software (which we’ll interchangeably call ‘app’ or ‘program’ throughout this post).

So we’ll start our guide from this point, and explore a framework that we have shared with our current customers and prospects in the past, who are struggling to determine what to do next, after they have already decided that software is what they are, in fact, after.

A complex topic...

Because there is SO much to cover on this topic alone, our guidance will be delivered over 3 posts:

  1. In this first post, we’ll stop just at the point where you’ve identified your organization's NEEDS but stop before you actually start to research solutions
  2. In our second post, we'll give helpful tips and tricks for conducting your research and the type of interactions to have with potential software partners (including questions to ask)
  3. The third and final post will provide guidance on how to implement the software you have chosen to ensure maximum adoption and usage in your organization 

Now, a quick scroll down this page will reveal that there is a LOT to do in this first post alone!

But we promise the effort is worth it. For 2 reasons:

1. Saves time in the long run. If you take the time to do the work detailed in this article, once you actually buy whatever software program you end up using, it will be super easy to start using it. This might seem a bit unrelated but, because you’ll have an excellent understanding of how you want to use the software after exploring your organization's needs in depth, once you actually start working with a program, you’ll have an excellent sense of how to use the software exactly the right way for your own rescue group

2. Confidence boosting. Going about the process diligently and carefully will prevent the ‘second-guessing’ you might get if you were to rush into a decision. So the feeling (and relief) you’ll receive - because you took the time to do this evaluation correctly now - will reap dividends in the long run. After all, you have enough stress in your day as is!

Now, let's dive into the software evaluation pool!


What you need is NOT a “feature”...

... It’s an understanding of what your rescue group is, and how it operates, today. Granted, there’s lot’s of software out there, but how do you decide which program is ultimately the right one for YOUR rescue?

The answer is, it depends on what ‘right’ means to you. What works for a foster-based rescue in a rural area might not be the best fit for an urban shelter with 3 facilities. So first, take an hour or two to map out your goals for your rescue over the next 6 months, 12 months and 2 years.

How do you want your rescue to grow? Where and when do you want to be at these different milestones? Maybe you want to increase the volume of animals you help...OR perhaps you want to hold your rescue size constant but start to do other things, like humane education or outreach.

The reason it’s CRUCIAL to answer questions like this first is that they will help you understand - before you invest the time and money to research and implement a new software - what you need to be looking for in the long-term. So be honest with yourself and write down your goals. And if the answer is ‘I don’t know’ then take your best guess.


Next, write down how you operate TODAY (your processes) and how you want to change them in the future (and WHY).

The natural tendency when first starting to look at software is to go right to "features". Common things we hear from prospects are statements like, “I have to have email notifications!” or “It MUST integrate with Quickbooks!” or “You need to integrate with Petfinder, Adopt-a-Pet, and All Paws.”

While these are all valid requests, what’s really behind each of these features is a need to do something specific.

Writing down everything you do (and what needs to change about it) will be intense but it is so eye-opening (and a good exercise regardless of whether or not you ultimately end up buying a program).
— The Sparkie Folks

So, “must integrate with Quickbooks” might really mean “I spend too much time entering information into Quickbooks, only to then have to re-enter it into my google doc, which I use to track donations from events. If I could just enter all that info once, I’d save hours a week!”  "Integrate with Quickbooks" is actually fraught with a lot more meaning!

Therefore, we recommend you do this exercise in 2 parts:

  1. List our your rescue group's primary processes. Write down everything you do for your rescue in a single week, at a high level (we’ll call these your primary processes). Meaning processes like ‘pull animals from shelter’, ‘review applications’, etc. This list will probably be pretty long to start but try to keep it to the 10 'processes’ that take up the majority of your time.
  2. Then, write down all the steps that go into each process and the approximate time it takes to complete each step. So, going back to our example, if ‘reviewing applications’ is one process, the step by step for this might be:
  • Open google form (1 min)
  • Copy information into spreadsheet (5 min)
  • Organize it with colors (2 min)
  • Make calendar invites to call all references (10 min)
  • Call references and while doing so take notes on google doc (25-30 min)
  • Make decision (5 min)

Once you know the step-by-step for each process, you can start to see what you want to change about it.

So for the above, you might want to stop having to copy information from the application form to a sheet. You might also not want to have to take notes and then send an email to your colleagues. But perhaps color coding each application doesn't really bother you or take a lot of time.

Either way, by laying everything out this way, you can really start to pick and choose the parts of the process you absolutely must change in order to reach your goals, and what you are willing to more or less live with. 


Combine the above to identify the 'gaps' you have today, and brainstorm what you think might solve this

Let’s keep going with the application example above. You’ve identified, of that entire end-to-end process, that it’s the copying of the information and having to email your colleagues to review, that together take up most of your time. So then your ‘need’ boils down to something like, ‘I need an application that my colleagues can immediately access on their own, so I do not need to copy the information to a sheet and then email them about it’.

Pretty succinct right?

When you identify this need, and bring this to the software companies you will ultimately speak to, it will force them to explain very clearly how their software can actually solve your problem. Why?

Because if you just say ‘application integration’, Company A might think that only means being able to pull data from your form into their system. But, they might NOT be able to email your colleagues this information. So while in their eyes, they meet your ‘need’, they actually don’t, because the phrase ‘application integration’ doesn’t truly encompass what you actually want a software program to be able to do!

It's in these little gaps of understanding that misalignment of expectations start to creep up - and can cause a lot of headache down the line!

 Knowing YOUR rescue's groups needs, and being able to clearly articulate them, will ensure that when you start to research software options, and speak to different companies, there is little room for confusion about what you need a program to do for you!

Knowing YOUR rescue's groups needs, and being able to clearly articulate them, will ensure that when you start to research software options, and speak to different companies, there is little room for confusion about what you need a program to do for you!


Develop a "value-based" budget

If we were writing this article for an enterprise-level corporation, we wouldn't bring up budget or price in this post. But given the sensitivities of our target market, we do think it's important that rescuers spend time to really understand what they can afford to pay for the value they will receive from a software - not just what they want to or think they can afford to pay based on current operations.

$50 a month might sound like a lot of money (and it definitely can be, especially if today you can save 2 animals a month on $50). But if a good software solution can actually ‘make’ you $100 a month (because it allows you to replace other paid programs you use or maybe it saves you a few hours of your time, which has value in its own right) then that software will quickly pay for itself.

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So while it’s important to have an understanding of what you can actually afford, try not to lock down a budget too quickly. Instead, be open to adjusting it up or down based on what you uncover during your research.

If a software has everything you want but seems a little expensive, try to think about what else you might be able to change about how you work today so that the software will be worth it. After all time IS money!


Now, put this all together in a document you can track and share

Once you’ve listed out your needs (and, ok, maybe a few features too!), create a document (a spreadsheet format is likely best) with all the criteria listed on the left - including your needs and WHY these are needs and the programs you will evaluate going across the columns on the top. Here's an example:

 A spreadsheet like the one above ( and available for your use HERE ) can help organize your findings and also be something you can easily share with software firms you speak to during the evaluation process!

A spreadsheet like the one above (and available for your use HERE) can help organize your findings and also be something you can easily share with software firms you speak to during the evaluation process!

Once you start to do your research and speak with different vendors, you will have a good way to understand which software programs will meet your needs, and which may not.


Before you go...

We know this post was likely very daunting, and got you thinking about a lot of things that might have nothing to do with software (which isn't necessarily a bad thing!) But now that you are armed with a crystal clear understanding of your needs, you can begin your research with much MORE focus and confidence than you would have had you just opened google and started typing something.

Next week, we'll provide guidance on the various ways you can go about this research, from ways to find programs to potentially use, to the first email you should send software companies that you might want to work with.