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How To Choose Your Nonprofit’s Software With Debbie McCann of W4Sight


Software selection? Yes, there’s a process for that.

Depending on your philosophical bent, you might consider this one of the glories, or one of the horrors, of capitalism: vast, overwhelming choice. If you’re looking for a nibble before a flight, for instance, you have a rainbow of over 200 flavors of Doritos from which to make your selection. How could you fail to satisfy your peckishness, given such flavors as Doritos Spicy Sweet Chili Tortilla Chips, Doritos Jacked Smoky Chipotle BBQ, and the quaintly mysterious Doritos Unidentified Flavour?

Nonprofit technology, and particularly the branch that focuses on constituent relationship management (also known as “CRM”) tools, has also fallen prey to (or, received the bounty of) a similarly overgrown bramble of options.

How is a nonprofit communications staffer tasked with the selection of a CRM to cope without paralysis?

Simple. Debbie McCann has a process for that.

In this episode of the Nonprofit Thrive podcast, Ben Freda speaks with Debbie McCann, CEO of W4Sight, to talk about choosing nonprofit software. As has become our habit on this podcast, we begin with Debbie’s personal story: how did she become one of us, a member of this glorious nonprofit tech community? Debbie discusses how she got interested in data conversion, how she came to start W4Sight, role of AI tools for nonprofits, and — finally, mercifully — a process for how to select, without collapsing in tears of anxiety or anger, a reasonable option among so many for one’s nonprofit’s needs.

Today's Guest
Debbie McCann

Debbie McCann

Debbie McCann is the CEO of W4Sight LLC, a company that helps nonprofits harmonize their technology, people, and processes so their teams work more efficiently. With a keen focus on aligning technological tools with robust business objectives, Debbie’s proficiency lies in meticulously weaving software solutions into the fabric of organizational purpose. Her expertise extends across the entire project lifecycle, from orchestrating strategic planning sessions to pinpointing organizational needs, overseeing implementation phases, and transitioning system management seamlessly to clients. With Debbie at the helm, not-for-profits access not only software implementation, but a strategic partnership geared towards achieving impactful outcomes.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [3:53] How Debbie McCann established herself in software project management for nonprofits
  • [11:39] Debbie explains how she got interested in data conversion
  • [17:08] Lessons Debbie learned from starting her agency and working for herself
  • [19:32] What services does W4Sight offer?
  • [25:35] Methods for choosing the right tools to support your nonprofit organization
  • [38:27] Debbie shares her thoughts on the role of AI tools for nonprofits

In this episode…

Choosing the right software for a nonprofit organization is paramount to its efficiency and impact. Selecting software tailored to the specific needs and goals of the nonprofit ensures optimal resource utilization and streamlined operations. How can nonprofits navigate the vast array of software options available to find the perfect fit for their unique mission and objectives?

Software selection and implementation expert Debbie McCann explains W4Sight’s three key focus areas for nonprofits when choosing software. She emphasizes the importance of conducting an ecosystem assessment to optimize software tools for efficiency and synergy. Additionally, Debbie talks about helping organizations select and implement software solutions tailored to their unique requirements, often navigating the trepidation about making the wrong decision or lacking the necessary skill sets. Moreover, she advocates for ongoing support with a focus on building internal capacity. This ensures clients are empowered to navigate their software ecosystem independently in the long run. To navigate the complexities of software selection and implementation successfully, you must thoroughly understand your organization’s needs and involve diverse perspectives in the decision-making process.

In this episode of the Nonprofit Thrive podcast, Ben Freda sits down with Debbie McCann, the CEO of W4Sight LLC, to talk about choosing your nonprofit’s software. Debbie discusses how she got interested in data conversion, the services W4Sight offers, and the role of AI tools for nonprofits.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by BFC Digital.

At BFC Digital, we help nonprofit organizations thrive on the web so they can improve the world.

Our team of creative and tech experts understands that an online presence can help foundations and organizations accomplish their missions. That’s where we come in. Over the last decade, we’ve advised our clients on web design, front- and back-end development, and tech support.

We’re committed to supporting a select set of clients who continually inspire us with their vision for a better world.

To learn more on how BFC Digital can assist you in realizing your organization’s mission, visit, email us at, or call 646-450-2236 today!

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:06

Welcome to Nonprofit Thrive, a podcast where we learn from the humans who are helping nonprofits succeed in the digital world. Now, let’s get started with the show.

Ben Freda 0:23

Welcome, I’m Ben Freda, host of the show. And on this show, we learned from the smart people in the nonprofit space. The people behind the organizations, the foundations, and the agencies that help nonprofits change the world, particularly on the web. We have had several episodes at this point, we’re still starting out, you can probably tell. But go back and listen to a couple of episodes that we recorded in the past episode number two, we had Jake Wunsch, from Media Law Resources Center, he talked about how he uses a daily email every day to his membership to talk about any news cases in the First Amendment space. And he manages to get a 50% open rate on this, which blew my mind. So go and listen to that. See what he’s doing right something another episode you might want to check out, we just interviewed Laura Quinn. She is x of ideal where now she is a website analyst and coach. And she helped us understand about metrics. So how to start considering what metrics in your digital assets, your website, your web apps that you want to start looking at that, of course, is one of those holes in the Swiss cheese of my knowledge about this stuff is how to figure out exactly what metrics to use. So that was super helpful. Go back and listen to that. Before I introduce today’s equally awesome guest. I have to tell you, this podcast is brought to you by BFC Digital, where we help nonprofits thrive on the web. If you work at a nonprofit or a foundation or another type of social change organization, I’m sure you know that unless you’re doing a big ol web project with multiple 10s of 1000s of dollars, it can be really tricky to find reputable, responsive, friendly, helpful help for your website. At BFC. Digital, we help our clients succeed on the web. By being the web colleagues, designers, and developers, you wish you had on your own team for a low monthly price. We can help you fix your bugs evolve your web presence, we can design new campaign pages for you, we can integrate your new donation system into your into your website and we can do it without ever asking you to fill out a support ticket. And those support tickets promise go to to learn more. So for today, I am super psyched. I do have to give a shout out to Emily Culbertson, who I interviewed in episode four, who recommended this guest to me who I found that I already knew, which was a lucky twist of fate. Today we have Debbie McCann, who started W4Sight in 2009. She is an expert at helping nonprofits and foundations resolve their software issues and their data related issues. She actually started with a degree in American history. But she just proves that a liberal arts degree means you can really do anything. Her favorite consulting tasks she claims is data conversion, which thank God, because we need people who love doing that. Debbie, thank you for joining the show.

Debbie McCann 3:25

Thanks for having me, Ben.

Ben Freda 3:27

It’s really I’m actually I’m very excited to have you on. Because this software selection data conversion stuff is like one of those big black clouds people see in the horizon. And they’re like, oh, my god, how am I going to deal with it? So I’m super psyched. Before we get into that stuff, though. I want to just sort of understand like how you got to where you are now it says you’re a history, major American history, American history. So what happened, what happened there, you started as a history major. And then what happened?

Debbie McCann 3:53

I think what it really comes down to is that I was looking for something to do where I could help people. And usually when people are looking to be in the helping professions, you find them in medicine, or you find them in mental health, you know, some very direct line to helping people. And I come from a whole family of mental health professionals. And I think my form of rebellion was I still want to help people just not the way you people do it. I gotta do something on my own. And so I found my way to public policy as my outgrowth of American history, you know, how do we as Americans, you know, do things differently as a society. And that got me into an interest in public policy where I earned a master’s degree. And then, you know, like everybody, I had some good jobs, I had some less good jobs. And what I really found in the end is that I loved large scale project management, and I loved the more technical side of things that I really never did learn about in the history department. Hmm. And I sort of fell into software project management as an opportunity that presented itself at an opportune time, and here I am, I mean, I learned all of those skills on the job. And definitely what I took from my background, you know, in American history and then later, you know, in public policy is that if you can be organized, and have a very structured way of thinking that can take you in a lot of different directions.

Ben Freda 5:26

That’s interesting. That’s interesting. I do. I was a public policy major, as well. So I’m glad to meet another public public policy nut. I remember when I was graduating, the big things you could do with a public policy degree that everyone else was doing was he could go to law school? Sure, or go be a management consultant. Those were the things that everybody wanted to do. Oh, that’s so interesting. Yeah. It was that it? Was that the way it was for you?

Debbie McCann 5:49

No, not at all. I, you know, coming out of undergrad, I took a year off and then apply during that year to public policy programmes. And I had been very interested in up until that point in education policy, not so much that curriculum stuff in the classroom, but more education as a system. School districts function, how state agencies function. So when I started my policy degree, it was with that focus. Although I learned because I was at the University of Chicago where the degree is not in public policy. It was in Public Policy Studies. We just study things at the University of Chicago. We don’t do things, we study them, it’s very, very specific way of thinking that you have a way and so that the emphasis was on is this programme or policy effective, it would seem a social programme evaluation. Gotcha. That’s what I learned to do and those technical skills do carry over into the other things, for sure. But yeah, management consulting was not a huge thing at the time. So I ended up coming out of that job, or out of that degree, working for a small nonprofit as a policy analyst. Modelling changes in school finance legislation, like which school districts would win, which school districts would lose, and I was the one who had to build and run the model. Every time there was a new legislative proposal to figure out which school districts would be happy, which would be sad.

Ben Freda 7:16

That makes total sense. And it does actually connect to that data stuff. Maybe, you know, I remember, in, in, in class, and in my major, we were looking at, like you said, we’re looking at changes in the law, and what are the costs? And what are the benefits? And you think and you and you like add them up? Is the benefit greater than the cost? And you just adding up things on both sides. And can be super tricky, because like, you know, what are the benefits to a new stadium in downtown Manhattan? Let’s say the thing about what

Debbie McCann 7:42

What are the assumptions you need to make?

Ben Freda 7:44

Yeah, so there’s X amount of more, I don’t know, food bought in the neighborhood, which equals X amount of sales, revenue, sales, tax revenue equals whatever. But it’s really complex, it gets very complicated very fast.

Debbie McCann 7:55

Well, there was a time in, let’s say, 1994, that I was one of maybe five people in the state of Illinois, who could write the funding formula for public schools, K 12. On the blackboard. Yeah. So every time there was a legislative change to that formula, I could model it because I could just do the algebra, change this variable, we’re going to change this multiplier, we’re going to change this assumption. And I had a model that could spit out all those changes. So that was my party trick, you know, back then,

Ben Freda 8:27

I bet you are a riot at parties, just a lot of fun.

Debbie McCann 8:31

I can also keep score in bowling, which is also a skill that has kind of gone by the way of the dinosaur. But adaptation is critical. So I have adapted to new challenge.

Ben Freda 8:42

Were you a big bowler,

Debbie McCann 8:44

I just knew that I knew how to keep score was I felt like one of those things that other people were very scared of. I don’t know what to do.

Ben Freda 8:52

Yeah, I can. It’s hard for me to even imagine a time before the score was kept automatically by those. It used to be on paper. Wow, amazing. Amazing. So you were okay. So you found your American history. You went about policy, you found actually, I’m pretty good at figuring out this data stuff. And you worked at a nonprofit for a while. And then what happened?

Debbie McCann 9:09

Well, in that nonprofit, because I was studying school finance and its impact on policy changes. I could tell I could read the tea leaves enough to know nothing about this issue is going to change anytime soon. Fast forward 30 years, guess what Illinois, public schools are still funded primarily by property taxes, leading to great inequity between rich and poor districts. Right. You know, there’s your clue. So I was frustrated at the idea that I could be working on the same thing for 30 years and nothing would change. So that prompted me to look for something that was a little bit more dynamic that I felt like had a little bit more going on. And in that school finance work, I ended up ended up working with a consulting team that actually had a software product that analyzed how schools spent their money. And that’s what got me to switch gears and learn something about how software worked, which taught me something about how consulting worked. And that led me to a whole other series of jobs. But eventually, I was interested in not traveling anymore because I was getting married, starting a family and taking those skills and applying them to a public institution was a good next step. I was a deputy CIO with the city of Chicago for seven years.

Ben Freda 10:23

Wow. Okay.

Debbie McCann 10:25

In the public sector had the opportunity to take that software experience, take that public policy experience, and implement huge new systems for the city, new building permit and inspection system. First online car sticker sales system, like this was groundbreaking stuff in 2000. You know.

Ben Freda 10:45

NO, for sure.

Debbie McCann 10:46

I survived Y2K at the city, things that seem almost quaint now but we’re big challenges is that at the time and taught me a lot about big databases, big transformation projects, dealing with big people impact. That’s a lot of building inspectors who had to learn how to use the news.

Ben Freda 11:05

Totally. And everybody owns a car as to get the new registration sticker or whatever. I mean, yeah, you’re talking about stuff that affects like, your friends.

Debbie McCann 11:12

Rght. And I learned a new party trick, actually, I learned how to decode a VIN number on a car, the only component of that number corresponds to the year the make the model the color, a few other things, probably, and I learned how to decode your driver’s license number, that even that is basically a version of your name embedded in numeric alphanumeric code.

Ben Freda 11:37

Is that true in New York as well, and everywhere

Debbie McCann 11:39

I only work with, but I mean, I couldn’t really decode somebody’s license to figure out their name. But I learned I learned enough that it was fascinating. I thought that was cool. So that’s more stuff that just, you know, put me on data conversion transformation train, I suppose.

Ben Freda 11:54

That’s true. That’s true. It’s funny looking back, like, here’s what sticks out that I could convert the data of the number to the Yeah, that’s interesting. That just tells you where your brains at? That’s cool. Exactly, exactly. I know this is off track. But I’m interested in what it was like working for the City of Chicago, good things, bad thing.

Debbie McCann 12:11

It’s fascinating. I mean, it’s a huge institution and what it’s like today, I have no idea because I left that work, you know, almost 20 years ago. But for the time that I was there, it was an amazing opportunity for a young person, I started there when I was 29, to have a tremendous amount of responsibility, really way more responsibility than I should have had to implement a very large, very expensive system and have to convince, you know, hundreds of end users that, you know, they needed to change what they were doing on a day to day basis. So it was an awesome growth opportunity. It was political. And there were times where, you know, you had to shake your head at the decisions being made or the change in direction. You know, I worked for the mayor daily, you know, administration, which is a political environment. And so the mayor is out on a drive by through some neighborhood and you’d get a memo that says, Okay, we’re doing this now. Because, you know, that’s what the mayor noticed that day on his way to some meeting, and that could upend your entire plan for the year.

Ben Freda 13:14

Yeah, I could see that being super frustrating. It would seem arbitrary. Yeah. But,

Debbie McCann 13:19

On the whole, though, I look back on that experience very fondly. I met some amazing people and got a chance to really learn a tonne.

Ben Freda 13:26

Yeah, yeah, totally. So you work for the end? Yeah, I can imagine. Yeah, I’m, I’m just interested. Because being in New York City, there’s all kinds of things that people can do that affect, you know, in the government that that would affect everyone’s life, to a great degree. You know, it seems like a really interesting place to work. So So you’re in, you’re in the city of Chicago, and at what point do you decide, Alright, I’m ready to, like, not travel so much. I want to start my own my own agency.

Debbie McCann 13:51

I didn’t quite start with that intent. At the time that I left the city, I felt like I had learned what I was going to learn there. And I had had enough of some of those political roadblocks that I felt like, you know, I could take these skills and apply them in a different environment. I liked the fact that I was working in a public facing public institution. And but I felt like I’d sort of learned what that was about, and that perhaps I would have the opportunity to do that working with we didn’t call it the social impact sector back then. But I really wanted to stay focused on some sort of mission oriented work. But I did not want a job because at that point, I had two little kids, and I didn’t think anybody would give me a job that would allow me the flexibility that I hope that we’re providing with our team members now at W4Sight but back then I didn’t even have any expectation that someone would let me volunteer at preschool at exactly time, and you know, the things that I was looking to do. And so I thought, You know what, I’ll try getting some stuff on my own. If it doesn’t work out. I can revise my expectations and you know, I look for a job. So my husband was a huge supporter. And he said, Yeah, let’s give it six to 12 months. Let’s see what happens. And it worked out. Here we are.

Ben Freda 15:08

Yeah, it’s such a common story of people that I mean, the people that I talked to particular on the podcast, you know, we sort of have two guests, two types of guests, one from nonprofits, but also people from agencies like yours. It’s such a common thing and happened to me to where basically had a kid and started freelancing at the same time, you know, and that’s, that’s where it starts, you’re like, oh, shoot, I really want to be around for the preschool. And you need the flexible type situation and all that kind of stuff. Yeah, and same thing, I was like, Well, I have a kid, I’m going to take a few jobs and just see if I can turn this into something. And I remember, I remember telling my, my wife at the time, no longer my wife, which is maybe related to this problem. But I remember telling her, Don’t worry, I’ll make at least as much as we have to pay the nanny. You know what I mean? Because we had a part time nanny as well. Yeah. Which, of course, did not happen the first year. And, you know, but that that’s kind of what I was like, it’s so flexible anyway, so but that is really, really common, I think, where, you know, you end up taking on some freelance jobs, and then you take on some more, and then you slowly grow this thing. And, and, yeah, and just from word of mouth, or whatever.

Debbie McCann 16:10

Oh, right. One thing leads to another. And I mean, that’s where I really look back on the importance of that public policy degree experience. It wasn’t in the end, so much what I learned as the people that I met, because by the time I was looking to do that independent work, the people who I turned to were my friends, and like, this is what I’m trying to do, who do you know, can I help your organization? Because for the most part, they were working in nonprofit organizations, government sector, and some of my early projects, I initially, you know, made those contacts through people that I had met in grad school. Right. And, you know, fast forward another 20 years, you know, they’re all in leadership positions now in really awesome institutions. And so there have been opportunities to continue working with people that I know and trust, and, you know, be really excited about the impact that we’re able to have.

Ben Freda 17:01

Yeah, that’s super cool. That’s super cool. So you start a W four site? Is that the name of it? Am I right? That it’s basically with foresight.

Debbie McCann 17:08

Yes and no little bit. So when I first left the city, I started my own independent company, gotcha. And worked by myself for a few years. But one of the things that I learned in working by myself is that it can be lonely to work by yourself. Sure, yeah. It can also lead to some opportunities that you missed out on, because the client is worried about hiring a solo printer, right? Like, what happens if you’re sick, or your kid is sick, or whatever, nobody backing you up. So started connecting with some other women, as it turned out who were doing similar, but not exactly the same work. And we thought, you know, what, what if we went at this together, so the W4 was for women at the time, working with foresight for our clients, and that’s where the name came from. So I started on my own in 2006. But by 2009, it was pretty clear that we might be stronger together. So we started, essentially a fifth company, because we all had our own companies already. We started a fifth one, and it took a few years to wind down our independent work. But by 2012 2013, we were all in with W4Sight.

Ben Freda 18:23

Wow. And are all four of you. Still there.

Debbie McCann 18:26

I am the last remaining co founder, one of our co founders fairly early on, realized you know what this is not for me, I’m gonna go back to my independent work for various personal reasons, which was fine. We wished her well, but the three of us who remained stuck with it until people started retiring. So I was the youngest one of the bunch. And so my two other co-founders who were with the company for quite a while, are now both retired, and they’re happily, you know, moving on to other projects. But we have been able to grow the company in that time to also include a number of other team members, which is really exciting.

Ben Freda 19:04

Yeah, totally, totally. That Firstgiving stuff is awesome. That moment.

Debbie McCann 19:08

Yeah. And it took a while before we were ready to make that step beyond just the four of us. 2017, we hired our first employee, and I wanted to get her a mug, you know, employee number one.

Ben Freda 19:20

That’s cool.

Debbie McCann 19:22

Yeah, that was a great experience.

Ben Freda 19:24

So tell me a little bit about what you guys do. So you are focused on helping organizations figure out what their software needs are, is that?

Debbie McCann 19:32

So yeah, our work tends to fall into one of three buckets. Ecosystem Assessment and design, I would say is the first bucket and that’s the one that brought us in the broadest way helps organizations look at their software tools, and how they work together, and whether or not they could be optimized to work together more efficiently. Gotcha. Often folks know that they have a giant pile of spaghetti things have organically evolved over time and people I made decisions that were the best decisions that I knew how to make at the time, but nobody was thinking big picture about how will the marketing tool interact with the donor management tool or with the offense registration tool with our website with this with that, so we help organizations take a fresh look at the whole set of stuff. What do you keep? What do you fix? What do you start over with, so that your enterprise ecosystem is well functioning and efficient? That’s the gotcha. So that’s one bucket. Our second bucket is, you know, coming out of that work, often there are specific software tools that should be replaced, or that you don’t have at all and as an organization should be part of your tool set. And so we help with implementing software selection and implementation. And many times the organizations that we’re working with, are terrified of making the wrong decision. Or if they’ve made the decision, having the where-with-all to actually get the software up and running, those are just skill sets in, you know, a lot of nonprofits just don’t exist. And so outsourcing it for a period of time. And helping you build capacity is a really important part of being able to get from ecosystem concept to ecosystem reality, right. And then our third bucket of work is that we do provide some ongoing support, the way that we would prefer to do that, in most instances is to onboard with an off ramp in mind. So that we are really focused on helping our clients build internal capacity, so that there will come a time when they don’t meet us, our goal is not to stick around forever.

Ben Freda 21:34

Right? Yeah, that makes sense. You’re training somebody there who can sort of take the ball and continue to run with it. So how do you, you know, and I know you have a you have a method sort of that you use to look at what ecosystem you know, software is in place and what the changes should be?

Debbie McCann 21:51

Yeah. Our overall philosophy is that you should have a balanced three legged stool, okay, everybody understands that a Tippy stool, or to be table, right? You don’t want to be thing is going to make you nuts. So what that means in the context of a software ecosystem, is that the three legs of the stool are functionality, you know, it’s got to have the tools and the features that you need to get your work done, whatever it is that work is, it’s got to be at a cost that is sustainable for your organization. Right now. If it’s too cheap, it probably doesn’t have all the functions if it’s too expensive. That’s obviously a big risk for your org. Right? Yeah. And it’s got to be sustainable from a complexity standpoint. What do you mean by that, so complicated, that it has all these bells and whistles and the features are great, and maybe you even can afford the software itself, but you have no internal capacity to really wrangle and understand it, that leg of the stool is short, you don’t have the capacity to really either leverage all the things that you’ve now invested in, or you’re so overwhelmed by it, that you’re not using them either. And so that’s not a good choice, either. And so that’s why we ended up in many cases, advising smaller organizations to be cautious about how complex a tool they’re willing to commit to. Because if you’re gonna spend the money to get a complicated tool up and running, and then have nobody to work with it. Yeah, have you actually achieved?

Ben Freda 23:26

So is are the more complex tools are they do they tend to be more expensive?

Debbie McCann 23:30

They certainly can be. And sometimes there’s a little bit of a misleading thing out in the market. We work with a lot of organizations who have for instance, Salesforce, because they heard that it’s free for nonprofits, and there is a license programme that does allow nonprofits to get certain licenses free. Okay. However, Salesforce is not one of those applications that you just open the box and press instal. And you’re good to go. There’s Yeah, yeah, some orgs are really great at that self starter, taking all the online courses, there’s a tremendous number of resources out there to help you get started. That’s not for everybody. And the vast majority of folks that we see are folks who either tried it on their own, it didn’t work. Or they had some buddies, hairdressers, dog walkers cousin help out for a while. Yep, sometimes that’s a board member or another volunteer, but then that person goes away and they’re left feeling like I just wanted to add another value to this picklist and I have no idea why it can’t show up on the screen. That’s because it’s a nine step process, you know. Um, so it’s, you know, it’s a great tool under the right circumstances and in the right hands. It’s not the right tool for every organization. And so that’s an example of where somebody stood. was out of balance. And you know, they’re looking for some help trying to figure out what they should do instead.

Ben Freda 25:04

Yeah, that makes sense. I’m gonna ask you a question that I asked my friend Ryan Ozimek, who was my first episode ever, did he? I was like, hey, well, what if I was starting an organization tomorrow just took a really small local organization to clean up my neighborhood, let’s say, yeah, what is the first CRM I should get? And he said, spreadsheet, just that’s where you start, you start with a spreadsheet, and then you kind of go from there like a Google Doc, it’s free, whatever. Just go from there. Would you agree with that assessment? Or do you think that there is something…

Debbie McCann 25:35

If you’re literally starting with nothing, I think that is actually great advice. And the reason I think that’s a helpful tool to get started, is that it leads you from disjointed, jumbled thoughts in your heads to structured data. Yeah, once you have the discipline to put stuff in a spreadsheet, you’re able to have a conversation with folks like us or on your own to figure out, well, what data do I need to track? Right? What’s important to me, right, and if you haven’t done any experimenting with writing anything down on a spreadsheet, or otherwise, you don’t know what your own needs are. So I think I think maybe what Ryan is really getting at, and I totally agree with is that you need to know what your requirements are, before you invest in anything. And nobody likes to stop and figure that out. Because the shiny stuff isn’t doing the demos, right? And seeing what’s out there. But we always encourage people shut all that stuff out. Yeah, actually think about what you need so that you are not distracted by the shiny stuff that you in fact, don’t need and don’t want to pay for and don’t want to be distracted by it’s not gonna

Ben Freda 26:47

Right, exactly that makes total sense. And, and I can see why it’s tempting to because you, you’ve heard Salesforce out there, and you’ve heard it’s free and and you’re like, This is the most powerful tool, I’m gonna jump right in here. And then you get totally lost discombobulated doesn’t meet your needs at all.

Debbie McCann 26:59

Right, and we get the question a lot. What’s the best CRM?

Ben Freda 27:03

Yeah, right. Well,

Debbie McCann 27:05

what’s the best car?

Ben Freda 27:07

Yeah, right.

Debbie McCann 27:08

What do you need it to do? Is really the first question toward helping anyone pick the best anything to meet their needs. What are your needs, because we as car for driving to the grocery store is not the best car to win the Indy 500?

Ben Freda 27:22

Totally, we get the same question all the time. Should we choose WordPress or Drupal? You know? And I’m like, it totally depends. There’s not a winner or loser. There’s a right, you know, you got to see what your needs are. And there’s a right tool for that. But

Debbie McCann 27:33

Absolutely, and one of the things I really love about the company that we’ve created is that we are a system agnostic, independent organization.

Ben Freda 27:43

I like that about you, too.

Debbie McCann 27:44

Yeah, thanks. We really have a tremendous amount of pride in that we have been able to build up expertise in a wide range of tools. And we have partnerships with a wide range of software companies. But we do not take anybody’s money. We are not revenue partners, we don’t get referral fees. So if somebody is going to hire us to help them make a decision, we can help them feel confident that we don’t get a kickback from somebody or suggesting that they use whatever. Yeah, so that just allows us so much freedom to really help people focus on what do you actually need this tool to do.

Ben Freda 28:23

And I want to get back to the stool analogy too. But when we’re talking about software tools, just for people that are listening who don’t, who for whom this is kind of somewhat theoretical, we’re talking about software tools to do what like take donations, track your membership. What else?

Debbie McCann 28:37

Event RSVPs send out regular communications, but not to your entire list. You know, how about having segmented communications, which is a technical word that just means a subset of your list? For people who are interested in some specific thing, I would say that’s the biggest range, with one exception, the additional thing is, most nonprofits do something. They serve clients, or they track cases or they are advocating for something. Whatever it is that they do, they need to be able to track it so that they can report their impact. And so there is usually some sort of mission focused tool that allows them to do that. So all the other stuff is important to the events, the donations, you know, the communications the website, but that mission focus tracking tool is critical.

Ben Freda 29:35

And that might be giving grants grant tracking grantees might Yeah, might be petitions and might be anything. Yeah, exactly. Okay. So so Okay, so those are those are sort of the range of the universe of the tools that that you are, right, the nonprofit can adopt to help them do. Exactly. Yeah, that makes sense. Okay, so let’s, let’s get back to that model of analysis. So you’ve got the three you’ve got the three legs of the stool cost, complexity,

Debbie McCann 29:59

Functionality. Yeah.

Ben Freda 30:00

And thanks, I was gonna get that. I was like, good, okay, no cost and complexity functionality, right? Okay. So go on, you’re analyzing those three, and you’re trying to make sure that it’s sort of not wobbly.

Debbie McCann 30:12

Exactly. And you know, then that’s your stool that you kind of carry with you on this software selection journey. And, you know, imagine that it’s a journey, right, you’re gonna go through a structured process, ideally, to figure out what your requirements are. Make sure that you are incorporating multiple perspectives from your organization. In defining those requirements. You know, don’t just ask the people in charge, ask the people who actually do the work, they might have different perspectives. Anybody who’s engaged in the process should have either a direct seat at the table, depending on the size of the organization, or at least think about it as a representative democracy, the people who are making the decision need to be thinking not just about their own needs, but who else’s needs, am I representing in this process to make sure that we are not just picking something that serves one part of the organization? Well, and we’ve left out a whole bunch of folks in the work that they do.

Ben Freda 31:13

Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha.

Debbie McCann 31:15

So defining your needs, and making sure you have the appropriate level of input is really critical. But then go through the process of doing demos, see a bunch of tools, make sure you’re seeing the same thing from multiple vendors. And often a vendor will have kind of a set script that they want to take you through, is okay, as the customer or the prospective customer to say, I need to see these three things. And to be like, you’re in charge, right? You are the potential customer, you can drive this process, I think a little bit more than many people realize they can. They’re very often intimidated by the whole thing, and therefore passive, and the vendor is just going to do what is comfortable for them. It’s okay to ask questions, it’s okay to have your own scenarios that you ask them to do. Ask them if you can get access to a sandbox, because there’s nothing like actually looking at it at your pace, even though you haven’t had the training. understood that you know, and I think that’s why some vendors won’t allow prospective customers to get a sandbox because you haven’t been trained. And they don’t want you to be frustrated by something you don’t know how to do. And then you assume that this system can’t do that, right, give people a little bit more credit. They can at least appreciate some basics about the system by getting their hands in it, even if they don’t know how to do everything. So do that if you can.

Ben Freda 32:40

Interesting. Are most of these demos actually led by like a human? I mean, there, you’re not just watching. There’s like, there’s like, okay.

Debbie McCann 32:46

Yes. It depends on the level of system that you’re looking at the cost structure, you know, the more expensive the system, the more options for personalization in the sales process there are, if you’re looking to buy QuickBooks, you know, you can sign up online, get going without ever speaking to a human, right, that’s a mass market, you know, huge scale thing. However, if you really need somebody to walk you through a product like QuickBooks, there are a million resellers who will spend that time with you, you just have to find. But if you go to the Intuit website, and you know are looking for anything new, you’re gonna find a sales number that you can call, but not a personalized dial.

Ben Freda 33:24

I got you. But for a lot of them, you can so HubSpot or or Salesforce?

Debbie McCann 33:29

Oh, they will absolutely. Yes, they will do. Exactly. And we you know, because we are a partner, just because we don’t take the referral fee doesn’t mean we can’t do the demo. So we have access to a lot of sandbox tools. And that does allow us to be involved in that process with our clients who are doing software selection.

Ben Freda 33:46

I like to I like that and be Yeah, and be be that that that sort of what’s the word, the wobbly wheel, the squeaky wheel that…

Debbie McCann 33:52

We can be the squeaky wheel or the spirit guide is kind of the way that we frame it. Because it is the journey, right? You are making a decision at the end. And we even have an image that we use in a presentation where there’s a little hiker with a backpack, right? And they really are progressing through this journey. And like any other journey, you want to have a roadmap. You want to pack snacks, write fast, don’t do it in a way, you know, don’t have three demos in one day. Think about how you would plan an actual trip. And the rules of the road are not that different. That common sense.

Ben Freda 34:25

You got you interesting. Okay.

Debbie McCann 34:27

Seriously, pack snacks do not have people sitting in a demo for hours at a time with you know, no food and drink breaks.

Ben Freda 34:34

Yeah, that is that’s a great, that’s a great tip. Seriously.

Debbie McCann 34:38

Pack snacks.

Ben Freda 34:39

Some Kind bars or whatever? Yeah, absolutely.

Debbie McCann 34:41

That’s nothing makes people more frustrated or less patient with getting into the details of something if they’re distracted by some human need, right? Like, do not plan your demo in the 15 minutes before lunch.

Ben Freda 34:57

All right. Yeah, totally. Hunger is a killer. A man that is angry, that makes me angry, it makes me pissed off. I hate this. But actually, I’m just I just have low blood sugar. So

Debbie McCann 35:07

I just need something else right now. And then I can come back to this. So yeah, be realistic about what humans can actually absorb and process in one day.

Ben Freda 35:20

So let me just recap this real quick stool, three legs, representative democracy, taking consideration everybody’s needs on this, you’re not just your own, do a lot of demos and take them slow. Anything else on that, on that, on that process part.

Debbie McCann 35:35

Be realistic in your implementation plan, don’t assume that you can get a giant new system implemented in the next three to four weeks, you know, most CRM projects, depending again, on the size of the organization, and you know, there’s a lot of factors that would go into it. But someone who tells you that you can be totally up and running and transition from your old system in four to six weeks, is not being honest about the scale of the process. Most organizations, it’s a six to nine month project, at a certain scale, if you really are tiny, and all you have is one Google Sheet, then sure, yeah, we probably could get you up and running in a few weeks. But part of what you’re going to need to focus on is all new business processes, because you’re used to doing things a certain way. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time, and trying to shoehorn it in, you know, during your busiest time when you’re planning for your largest programme, or your biggest fundraiser, you know, yeah, that’d be realistic about what your capacity is.

Ben Freda 36:36

For sure. Yeah, for sure. We find that with web projects, too, that a lot of times people will sort of under estimate how much effort it’s going to be to rewrite their content, or they have, oh, I have old versions of content will be fine. I’ll just do some edits. It takes a while. And you’re it’s not just that it takes a while. It’s also on top of everything else you’re already doing. It’s an additional thing. So yeah, we find that people tend to underestimate that to try and help people not do that. But I’m sure similarly with CRMs, right, it’s not just the tool, it’s how you’re going to change your behavior to use the tool.

Debbie McCann 37:07

Right. That’s exactly right. And sometimes that’s the part that they really need help with. It’s not that the technical aspects of the implementation are all that complicated, but really thinking through what that is going to change in folks’ day to day life. For sure. Humans need a little more time to process and

Ben Freda 37:25

Yeah, we do. We’re Yeah, we’re a little bit yeah, we got we got a process. Speaking of which, and I want to get to this before we end, because, you know, big shiny thing is AI now. But you know, you might consider that a sort of just an evolution of tools that exist. How do you see like, how have you seen the tools that are available for nonprofits change over the last 10 years? And how to expect them to change over the next, if at all, you can be the

Debbie McCann 37:50

The thing we’ve learned in the last 10 years is that nothing should surprise us, right? Things will continue to evolve at a rapid pace. You know, that is just the way of the world that we live in an AI, you know, is a great example of that. Who was talking about AI 18 months ago? A much smaller group of people, right? So it’s not that I don’t think AI is important, but whether it’s AI, or the next shiny thing that happens after AI, right, those tools do not replace the need for thoughtful planning and execution.

Ben Freda 38:26

Thank you. Yeah.

Debbie McCann 38:27

It does not change the fundamentals. If you have no fundraising strategy, AI is not going to help you with your fundraising. Right? You have to put something in the prompt for ChatGPT tools? Will it help you surface patterns in your data that you didn’t see before? Sure. But then what are you going to do with them? And the more sophisticated these tools get, in theory, the less we have to think, but I think we’ve all seen examples of where tools also they’re only working from the information that they’ve been exposed to, there gaps, right. You’re not really going to turn them loose to represent you without any human oversight. So again, it all comes back to the fundamentals, you really do need to know your own business processes. You do need to have your own goals, then the tools can support you, but they shouldn’t dictate what you’re doing.

Ben Freda 39:21

Yeah, that makes that makes total sense. So no, no,

Debbie McCann 39:23

And i don’t see that changing? Yeah. They’re

Ben Freda 39:27

not going to replace the thinking that you have to do, which is the hard part. Right? That’s the hard part.

Debbie McCann 39:31

I mean, we may be amazed at how much of a boost it can give a thinking person. You know, I’ve seen plenty of demos now about you know, writing donor or prospect, you know, letters and things like that. But it doesn’t know the nuances of what you might know about this person. You know, I don’t think we’re quite ready to give over all of our communication responsibility to the robots quite yet.

Ben Freda 39:56

So you’ve seen the robots write donor letters.

Debbie McCann 39:58

Yeah, write drafts of them anyway. And then you can exactly say, you know, write me a thank you letter in a formal style. And it will spit out, you know, based on what it’s been exposed to. However, that’s happening, a not bad starting point. So if you’re someone who’s early in your career, and you really are like struggling to get started, I can see how those are really attractive shortcuts. I see. Yeah. You just don’t know what you don’t know. And I wouldn’t go send stuff out, you know, without a human getting involved, at least at this stage.

Ben Freda 40:35

Right? Yeah. And I would imagine, I mean, most people, whether you’re in the development department, executive, executive, Director, whatever, and you’re writing a thank you letter to say a big donor, you’ve probably done it before. Right, like, so you’re probably rather than having AI generate the rough draft, I would probably assume you’re you’re using your past ones, you know.

Debbie McCann 40:53

You’re not necessarily starting from a blank piece of paper. Exactly. No, no, that’s definitely true. I think we should all be open to the possibilities of what these amazing advances can bring us because, you know, we wouldn’t be where we are today, if we hadn’t embrace change. Sure. I think just doing it thoughtfully. It is an important step.

Ben Freda 41:10

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that makes total sense. Well, listen, before we run out of time, I want to make sure that I give you a chance just to tell people, you know, where they can find you where they can find out more information about your company and what you guys do? Can you give us the give us a 401?

Debbie McCann 41:27

Well, we are on the webinar and digital presence at and would love to hear from anyone who would like to reach out to us, we do have a contact form on our website. If you are not sure what you need, there’s a checkbox for that option on the website as well. We’re happy to chat with folks and, and help them figure out what they need. You know, as a first step, you don’t have it all figured out just to come and chat.

Ben Freda 41:53

Yeah, that’s one thing I think we should highlight for people, you don’t need to know all the answers before you reach out. You know, yeah.

Debbie McCann 42:00

Well, yeah, I’m pretty sure one of the things on the forum says, I don’t know, but I know I need help.

Ben Freda 42:05

And again, that’s the part that AI cannot give you the personalized Debbie of analysis of your situation.

Debbie McCann 42:11

And my team members as well, we have a great team. Now, you know, we started in a very different place. But we are welcoming our 10th team member next month. And that’s Yeah, super excited.

Ben Freda 42:23

Congratulations. Thank you. It’s been really great. I really appreciate it. Is there any last thing that I didn’t ask you that I should have asked you that? You know, obviously, I these things go so fast when we get into the conversation, and I’m like, what I can’t believe we did that was over.

Debbie McCann 42:38

Yeah, I think the thing I would just leave people with is Don’t Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I mean, that’s what folks like you and I do is, you know, help people who are doing things that are outside of their wheelhouse. It’s hard to fake things like data conversion. And it is okay, in fact, to ask for help. And it might not be as expensive as you think, you know, start the conversation and go from there. And, you know, don’t try to do it all yourself, if it really is something that’s causing you great anxiety, we’re here to help.

Ben Freda 43:10

Yeah, and in some ways, I think of people like you and me. And again, we were talking before the show about, about the mindset and the maybe the the personalities that people would get into this type of work, but but in some ways, I think of us as anxiety. reducers honestly, that’s our job.

Debbie McCann 43:25

Absolutely, Yes. We like to help people help people.

Ben Freda 43:27

Just help them be less nervous. I mean, technology can be scary. It’s frustrating. You’re never going to know everything. It’s impossible to know everything. It’s always changing. And that can cause a lot of anxiety and frustration, stress, you know, and maybe because of the way we’re raised, I’m like, I really want to help with that. Anyway,

Debbie McCann 43:43

We’ve got this, don’t worry.

Ben Freda 43:45

Don’t worry about it. Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. It’s been such a pleasure and always appreciate your expertise. We should we should do it again at some point will do.

Debbie McCann 43:55

Absolutely. And I’ll see you in Portland. Yes, NTC.

Outro 44:00

Thanks for listening to the Nonprofit Thrive podcast. We’ll see you next time and be sure to click Subscribe to get future episodes.

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