How to ensure your software purchase is worth the price
By Deborah Wipf

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Accounting programs, church management software and more have become common tools to help us handle a myriad of administrative details. While these programs can save you time and money, the initial purchase price can be significant. Whether you're ready to make that first purchase or need to change to a more robust system, follow these steps to make sure you end up with a tool that's worth the price tag.

INDUSTRY PULSE

What is the toughest part of changing over to new software?
  • 1. Putting someone in charge
  • 2. Implementing and testing the system
  • 3. Teaching the system to employees
  • 4. Dealing with the vendor

Before you buy
  1. Determine exactly what you need. It's tempting to dive right in and buy the latest software in hopes it'll solve your problems. That's a recipe for disaster. Instead, take the time to determine exactly what you need the software to do. Should it be Web-based or installed on your church's network? Do you need the ability to send out mass emails from the software to specific groups? What types of reports do you need it to generate? Talk with staff and volunteer leaders who will use or be impacted by the software to get their input.

  2. Examine your current processes and determine what should change even before you implement new software. Don't put a fancy new tool over an ineffective process — that won't fix the real issue. Review processes such as how you gather contact information for new members, when and how you communicate with different groups, etc. For processes that aren't working well, determine what you can change that has nothing to do with the software and then implement the new process.

  3. Review several options before purchasing. Do a bit of research to find at least two or three programs that might work for your church. Search online and contact other churches to ask what they use. Compare the functionality of these programs with your list of requirements. Request software demos and detailed pricing information from each vendor before making your decision.
After you buy
  1. Define roles and responsibilities for everyone involved in the process of implementing the new software. Who will be the main contact with the vendor? Who will support and maintain the software? Who needs to be involved in deciding what data will be migrated into the new system, what fields should be included and which reports must be developed?

  2. Assign a project manager. You need a single person on your team to lead the project of implementing the new software. This individual should be very organized, great with details and able to communicate effectively with technical and nontechnical personnel. The project manager should work closely with the church staff and vendor to make sure the implementation is completed on schedule.

  3. Develop a plan. Work with the software vendor to determine what it will take to activate or install the software, migrate data into the new system, conduct testing to make sure it's working correctly and train your team.

  4. Implement and train. As the software is setup and data migrated, schedule training sessions. A few weeks after implementation and training is complete, follow up with your team to address any questions or concerns.
Purchasing and implementing new software can be a significant expense and effort. Take the time to gather requirements, compare vendors and plan the implementation before moving forward. You'll end up with a better solution for your team, your congregation and your budget.

Deborah Wipf is the president and founder of Velocity Management Group, a company dedicated to helping the leaders of nonprofits with the business side of running an organization. She loves ministry, big vision, details, project plans and organization. Combining these passions into becoming a "business coach for churches, ministries and nonprofits" is how Deborah seeks to serve God and help people.

Over the last 10 years, Deborah has worked in the for-profit arena developing the skills needed to pursue her passion — helping nonprofits. Connect with Deborah online on Facebook or on Twitter (@VelocityMgmtGrp).