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10 Practical Questions to Ask Your Nonprofit Technology Vendor

I’m the COO and head of technology at GiveGab.  I’ve been involved with the development of our platform starting more than 5 years ago and continue to be involved today.  

The technology world is amazing and has evolved quite rapidly over the past several years.  The advent of Cloud Computing from providers such as Amazon Web Services and Heroku, for instance, has made the rapid adoption of quality, full stack technologies not only accessible to everyone, but also much more affordable.

Despite this, I have found that very few nonprofits ask much of anything about the technology that underlies the software that they use for crucial day to day operations such as fundraising, donor management, volunteer management, and supporter engagement/retention.  

It’s often treated as a black box and it seems that most are content in keeping it that way.  I say that it’s the obligation of any vendor to open that door and do so in a way that invites the nonprofit organization to take a look inside and feel comfortable that they’ve chosen an excellent product.  I’m here to help open that door!  

10 Simple Questions Your Technology Vendor Should be Able to Answer

1. Is your software scalable?

This means asking your vendor whether they can easily handle high volumes of traffic and avoid crashes.  The best systems scale “elastically” – meaning that, as volume increases, the system detects this and adds more capacity.  

When the volume decreases, capacity should be removed.  Auto-scaling is the most efficient use of dollars because it spends no more than what’s needed.

 2. Is your software fault-tolerant?

In other words:  if there’s a problem, can their system detect and auto-correct without disruption to your users? 

 3. Is your software redundant?

Meaning, can they guarantee that data won’t be lost if there is a disruption?  

 4. Is your software secure?

This varies, but things like PCI compliance, data access security, encryption of data, secure transport of data (SSL), security audits, authentication and password storage, and more need further explanation by the vendor.

 5. When was the last time you updated your software and how frequently do you update?

Generally the more frequent and the more automated their update process, the more modern and better the team.  

Also ask whether they own the tech platform or if its development is outsourced elsewhere – meaning they lack control of the product.

 6. Is your platform mobile responsive?

Being mobile responsive means that if the platform is a website and it’s opened on any device (mobile, tablet, laptop, etc), does it look like it’s meant to be viewed on that device?  

Your users don’t want to have to pinch and scroll to see the tiniest of fonts and corners of the screen.

 7. Is your software hosted on your own physical servers in your own datacenter/office or in the cloud?

Basically you want them hosted in the cloud, or in a co-located datacenter that someone other than the vendor maintains and supports.  

A nonprofit vendor should not be spending resources on hosting their own servers in their own datacenter.  They should be focused on nonprofits.  Technology service providers are the experts, not the nonprofit vendor.

 8. How do you monitor your systems?

Make sure they talk about availability (downtime), performance (speed), and error monitoring (detecting bugs before users do).  All three are crucial to a quality system.

 9. What was your platform’s up-time availability over the past year?

In this day and age, anything under 99.9% is really unacceptable.  24×7 availability and monitoring is the norm and really isn’t that hard to accomplish.  Ask them if they’ve had any major outages that negatively impacted their customers at crucial times.

 10. What is your support model?

They should clearly define service level expectations, including hours of support, typical response time, main channel of communication (live chat is the best these days but email and phone are also good), and where their support team is located.

If you start asking these 10 simple technical questions as you evaluate not-for-profit technology providers’ services and products, you’ll be on the right path to choosing the best modern solution that fits your needs.

Beyond these simple questions to start with, there are other groups that help you navigate nonprofit technologies, NTEN being one of them.  So, don’t fear the mystical nonprofit technology box… it’s not so scary! 

Feel free to reach out to me directly if you have any other questions – I’d love to be of help.