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IT, technology and digital

Is “cheap” software really worth it?

By Caroline Neighbour, Business Development & Marketing Administrator, Gallery Partnership


Budgeting for a charitable organisation is by no means easy. Not only are you relying on funding from donors, grants and statutory bodies, but you have the additional responsibility of ensuring the right amount of money is directed across the demands of the organisation. At the same time, you are managing increasing pressure from various areas of the establishment, all vying for financial support to boost their crucial work.

With such demands for services on the rise and an unpredictable political climate affecting economy, budgeting for these organisations is proving even more challenging. The importance of evidencing measurable impact and reaching out to beneficiaries is at an all-time high. A report by Charity digital jobs highlighted that 72% of charities believe improvement in digital services within their organisation, would aid their growth and help them achieve their strategy more effectively. Charity digital expert Zoe Amar concludes, “digital tools are no longer a luxury but a necessity,” indicating a significant shift in the exploration into digital investment.

The question that raises much debate is, “exactly how much should be spent on digital tools to aid such organisations?” The mindset for many used to be a set 3% of annual income, yet this figure now seems to be more flexible depending on requirements. The question should focus more on whether the investments which are made are supporting the true value within these organisations.

Acquiring software for little or sometimes free-can often feel like a win, yet short term thinking can lead to long term complications and expensive overheads later down the line.

Questions that should be taken into consideration when choosing a software package

Does it really meet your needs?

Many software options are marketed as “Out of the box- ready to use”- Yet with each organisation working differently and supporting so many unique circumstances, a “one size fits all” doesn’t match up. Instead, customisable and flexible functionality is a preferred choice, suitable for all involved in its utilisation. Many charities have increased pressure to evidence their impact and report on their work, ensuring regular funding. Opting for tailor-made software to support this should be the priority for any such organisation.

Does it have scalability?

Charities inevitability grow and evolve over time, therefore a software solution you choose now may not suit your organisation in 5 years’ time. There is no point investing in software that does not allow expansion or worse still, involves expensive plug in’s or add-ons, which ultimately will require additional training and resource time.

Are installation, support and maintenance covered?

If you are investing in a technology partner to deliver your software demands, they should be able to provide clear initial and ongoing costs which cover everything from implementation through to aftercare. Options to upgrade and strategy meetings should be available for future planning. If you are “going solo,” external consultant’s fees need to be considered. Consultants can charge anything up to £700 a day and support specialists typically £500 per month. These costs do not take into consideration emergency callouts and unexpected problems which can occur, which not only end up costing a significant increase on top of the initial “advertised” price, but cause delays and stall progress within the organisation.

Are migration and training inclusive of the price?

Most organisations have data that will need to be migrated, which takes time. While you need to concentrate on the daily demands of your organisation, this again can mean employing an external consultant with large fees involved to move this essential data across. Additionally training, if not inclusive may involve further courses depending on the complexity and skill set within the organisation. Opting to not train staff brings its own complications in terms of realising the full benefit the software has to offer, along with the increased demand on support as your staff struggle to figure it out on their own.

Are you protected from impending risks?

Not only is data security at an all-time high with one in five charities suffering from a cyber-attack5 in the last 12 months; GDPR regulations enforced in May 2018 involve fines from data breaches. At the same time, software upgrades and continuations fall under the same umbrella of the term “Risk.” With software evolving so quickly, a cheap option may become outdated and need migrating to a new package every few years, this in turn can unnecessarily halt your organisations strategy and potentially cause you to lose vital data obtained to support your mission.

As a younger generation who are actively “digitally literate,” fulfilling many of the jobs within the charitable sector plus our everyday reliability on technology to support routinely tasks; digital appears to be an obvious choice in terms of investment to enhance any organisation’s strategy. The priority surrounding this involves investing wisely, ensuring long term goals and all inevitable circumstances are accounted for. The phrase “the cheaper the better” doesn’t make sense if it is putting sensitive data at risk and essentially stalling vital work progressing which coincides with an organisations overall mission.

Gallery Partnership will be exhibiting at our IT & Digital Conference 2019

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