The proper software for your association can make work efficient and simple, however the wrong software can quickly ruin your day. We strive to maximize productivity, but it can be difficult to allocate time to learn or research new software. In this blog, I will discuss tips and ideas for researching and buying software for your association.

Free versions

There is almost always a free version of any piece of software. Although, this can often be a very tempting option and can sometimes work for your association, but there are also times that the free software can cause more problems than it is solving.

If a software is instrumental to the functioning of the association, then I would recommend using tried and tested paid software. For example, an association shouldn’t be running entirely on a free membership software you can find after 30 seconds of googling.

However, if you need to create the occasional graphic for a Facebook event or social media post, free software, like Gimp or Canva, are good alternatives to paying for Photoshop. My previous blog gives some examples of free online design software.

What is open-source?

When searching for free software, the word open source will come up often, but what exactly is open-source? According to Wikipedia, “Open-source software is a type of computer software in which source code is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software may be developed in a collaborative public manner.”

Open-source can create excellent content for association., For example, WordPress is open-source website content management system that currently powers 30% of the world’s websites.

However, open-source does have some downsides. A major con is that most free or open-source software is provided without support. This means that if you have a problem with the software, the developer might or might not feel like helping you with that problem at that moment.

Personally, I’ve always found that the free versions of software aren’t quite as good as the paid ‘professional’ versions. Take WordPress themes as an example: there are both paid and free WordPress themes available. I have used free themes in the past and modified them to fit what I needed. Then I would need to downloaded other free plugins for photo galleries, contact forms etc. I found fairly quickly that I could buy a WordPress themes for $50-$70. Purchases these themes would save me hours of work. From that point I will always buy WordPress themes instead of modifying the free ones.

Paid versions

If after some research or getting frustrated with free software, your association has decided to go the route of paid software, one of the first things to know is the different in pricing models. The two main pricing models are one-time fee and subscription.

One-time fee is exactly as it sounds. The association pays once, and they’re done. The software is yours for as long as you want to use it.

Subscription model is usually a monthly fee to gain access to the software. This can be cumbersome as it’s an ongoing cost but has its advantages. A major pro to a software subscription is that you will always have access to the newest version, which is ideal since software technology advances quickly.

Considerations before purchasing

Specialty software, such as association membership management software, can be very costly. Here are a few things to consider before purchasing.

1. Consider the customer support level you’ll need after purchase

Software vendors offer different types of customer service options, from conversations with real people to online self-service forums. Some vendors provide a full range of customer service options to all customers, while others incorporate varying levels of service in their pricing plans or as additional charges. It’s important to anticipate the level of customer support the association will need once you own the software.

Yes, the association knows the base price to purchase your software, but ensure that the board of directors is aware of the costs of extensions, integrations, your service contract, and all the other add-ons that pop up during the software-buying process?

2. Determine the total cost of ownership

That includes how much the software costs to obtain, implement, and maintain.

  • Ask the vendor about their pricing tiers. What do they included with each one? What features or services (such as customer support or installation)do they sell separately?
  • Many vendors offer discounts for those paying annually (instead of monthly) or for non-profits. Ask about ways to reduce the association’s price.

Some companies can bundle all of their software into one price. For example, Adobe has 17 programs in it’s creative cloud package for $53/month. You can also get individual programs for between $10/month to $20/month. I personally only use four of their programs regularly, but since it’s the most cost-efficient to buy the full bundle, I have access to their programs at no extra cost.

3. Budget extra time to set up your new software

When you see a demo for a new software, the company makes it seem so easy to set up and to use, but this isn’t always the case for new users. These demos often demonstrate tasks similar to what you need, but not exactly, and you might find out afterward about work arounds or changes required for your association’s setup.

4. Research

This should go without saying but do your research. Ask others in your professional network about their experiences buying and using software. Whether it’s colleagues at your own company, others in your industry, or friends in other lines of work, you can learn a lot from hearing stories about what worked well (or didn’t) from other people.

Need to Innovate

My colleague discusses the need for associations to innovate in his article. Technology can be a big help with this, using the correct piece of software to help you innovate.

One of the biggest frustrations in the office is when your software isn’t working properly or doesn’t do what you need it to do. Conversely, you might find a software shortcut that turns a 30-minute task into a 3-minute one. You’ll wish you decided to get that piece of software years ago.