August 15, 2014

How to Pick the Best Tools for Your Organization: A case study

When it comes to a term as broad as “tools,” understanding what an organization or individual’s goals are vital to identifying what to use.

As a member of the tech community, I find that there are a tremendous amount of resources that people are not using in their toolkit. Most people are aware of tools such as Adobe Creative Suite, Dropbox, and other easily recognizable brands. However, there is an array of affordable — and sometimes free — technical tools that can be leveraged for success.

From my personal experience at a start-up (which most nonprofits are), some of the best tools come from the open source community or are the open-sourced versions of enterprise solutions. The beauty of open source lies in the fact that the software (and sometimes hardware) is made freely available to the public, source code and all! Furthermore, people are encouraged to make changes to the software and share with others.

I was recently at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON), met some great people, and was introduced to some pretty amazing technical tools. While there, I kept thinking about ways to incorporate some of my conference takeaways into this post; I came up with the following questions that an organization must ask themselves while choosing a tool or suite of tools.

What do you need?

First, you must identify key features that you need in the tool. This is critical for knowing where to begin in the search for the most effective resources. Ask yourself, “What do we need and why do we need it?”  During this introspective time, ask around and see what your colleagues, partners, and competitors are using. How are they accomplishing tasks, and do you need some of what they’ve got? Once you have those answers, continue with the following questions.

FYI, I personally recommend having at least a good project management tool, communication platform, file-sharing service, and a design/editing tool. The aforementioned resources allow for an organization to communicate and collaborate well both internally and externally.

Who is it for?

What good is a useful item if there isn’t an audience for it? Exactly none! Once need is established, identify the people in your organization who will need or want to use new tools. Are these people technologically savvy? Do they struggle learning new skills? Do they prefer to be trained, or are they self-starters who learn best alone? Having an end user in mind will help you refine your options.

How much are you willing to spend? 

Creating a tools budget line item is an absolute must. Organizations must have an idea of how much they’re willing to spend on a service or product before they go in search of the perfect fit. Knowing how much you can spend helps an organization pick the best tool and price point for their budget and helps temper expectations. There’s nothing worse then finding the perfect tool, then hearing that it’s out of your budget.

Where can you find it?

Once you know what you need and how much you’re willing to pay for it, you can start to pinpoint ways to acquire it. Will it be through a software provider? Will you need to seek out a 30-day trial? Keep in mind that a few companies offer discounted (sometimes even free) products and services for nonprofits. Make sure they know what kind of organization you are and what you’re looking for.

What do you want?

What are the expected outcomes of using these newly acquired tools? Make sure you and your team have an idea of what the desired effect of the tool should be. Do you all want to streamline communication efforts, or maybe even enhance your CRMs? Regardless, make a list of milestones and goals, then cross-reference your list with the features and functions of the tools you think you need.

How will it integrate?

Will the tools integrate into your current toolkit? An organization will have to understand exactly how their employees will integrate it into their current processes, as well as the technical aspects of integration. Will this new solution have to be deployed locally? Can you host it in the cloud? Will older files be able to convert to a new system?


I think this last point is one that organizations rarely leverage, especially nonprofits. Once you know exactly what you need and want, go get it. Ask about bundling certain tools together to create the right cocktail for you and your team, then work towards getting the best deal possible. Be sure to contact sales teams in search of the best deal. Tell them that their competitor is offering X and you want them to match it. Be firm, yet polite. Remember, if you don’t ask, you won’t receive!

Once you’ve run through this list, you’re sure to have a tool, if not multiple tools, that will make you and your organization run more effectively. Furthermore, this list is not exhaustive, but it can be a foundational part of the tool selection process at anytime.

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Grace Andrews