Articles: How to Choose Software

Idealware articles, like those in our Few Good Tools series, give nonprofits concise, critical information on the software choices available for specific organizational functions and goals. We compare software options, offer real life examples and case studies, and give you the tools to make the right decision based on your specific needs.

Articles: How to Choose Software

  • By Dan Rivas,
    March 2015

    This article originally appeared at, where you can find many other nonprofit techno

  • By Laura S. Quinn and Kyle Henri Andrei,
    January 2015

    Updated January 2015

    Adding visuals to a phone conference can make a big difference in your audience’s engagement level. Sharing a document, software application, or slides helps your audience follow along more closely and get more information then they would just by listening. If you want to conduct a more formal online seminar—sometimes called a webinar—there are a number of affordable software packages that can help you communicate more effectively. We talked to five nonprofit professionals about the tools that have worked for them.

  • By Amadie Hart,
    January 2015

    This article originally appeared at, where you can find many other nonprofit technology resources and connect your nonprofit, charity, or public library with tech products and services. We're grateful for the financial support our friends there provided for this article.

  • By Laura Quinn,
    November 2014

    UPDATED for 2014! If you need an inexpensive software tool that’s not particularly strategic for your organization, traditional software selection techniques can seem awfully complicated. Here’s a simplified six-step process that can help when you just need to make a simple choice quickly.

  • By Laura S. Quinn,
    October 2014

    Updated for 2014.

    Constituent Relationship Management systems allow you to track a 360 degree view of all your interactions with constituents. What’s more, all the available options—including, CiviCRM, SugarCRM and Microsoft Dynamics CRM—are relatively inexpensive for nonprofits, or even free. Sounds ideal, right? 

  • By Laura S. Quinn and Elizabeth Pope,
    February 2014
    Is tax season a time of time of stress, chaos, and panic, or a relatively trouble-free period? Can you access the information you need in your accounting software, create reports, and track restricted funds, or does just logging on make you worry about crashing your computer? The accounting software you use will make or break this time of year for you, and can mean the difference between a painful tax season and an easy one. If you're struggling to create reports, track expenses and complete the necessary tasks, it may be time for a new system.
  • By Laura S. Quinn and Kyle Henri Andrei,
    November 2013

    How do open source productivity suites compare to Office 2013—and does it make sense for your organization to implement one rather than the commercially licensed, ubiquitous offering from Microsoft? We compare three toolsets on philosophy, price, and features to help you decide...

  • By Kyle Henri Andrei,
    September 2013

    With Microsoft offering cloud-based and installed versions of its popular office suite, users must decide which is right for them. We look at where the two versions overlap and diverge, and when each might make sense for your organization.

  • By Laura S. Quinn and Kyle Henri Andrei,
    August 2013

    Accepting payments by credit card is not necessarily difficult or expensive. In this article written for TechSoup--initially written in 2008 and updated in 2011 and again for 2013--we provide some tips and tools to process credit card transactions, both on- and offline, for organizations of all sizes.

  • By Elizabeth Pope,
    June 2013

    Your organization maintains relationships with a number of people in a number of different groups, some discrete, some overlapping, and being able to track and manage information about those relationships is critical to your success.

  • By Laura S. Quinn,
    June 2013

    What are we really asking for when we require nonprofits to produce data on performance, effectiveness and impact? While the surface logic is clear—we need to know this information—the full context and set of assumptions surrounding the request bears closer examination. Idealware's founder and executive director, Laura Quinn, wrote the following article for the Markets For Good blog.

  • By Kyle Henri Andrei,
    May 2013

    Despite the frequent claims that print is dead, many nonprofits are looking for ways to affordably create and distribute published works—everything from local directories and guides to full-fledged books. But publishing can take a lot of time and money that could otherwise be spent on programs or mission-related tasks. A Print-On-Demand service, or POD, can be a low-cost solution that lets you provide create and distribute printed resources to constituents, wherever they may be.

  • By Laura Quinn,
    May 2013

    Your nonprofit has constituents, and just like every other nonprofit, you want to track data about them. From donors to clients to volunteers to advocates to alumni, and many other types, your organization would love to find a magic system that lets you track everything you want to know about each type of constituent, including every interaction and every conversation they’ve ever had with your staff—plus the ability to spit out exactly the right information whenever you need it.

  • By Elizabeth Pope,
    April 2013

    There’s an app for everything, they say—but what about fundraising? With mobile devices reaching near-ubiquity, donors want to use their smartphones or tablets to give to their favorite charities. Some nonprofits are optimizing their websites to make it easier for mobile users to donate, others are experimenting with text-to-give programs.

  • By Elizabeth Pope,
    September 2012

    Whether your organization has just a few employees or a few thousand, its staff is its most valuable resource. To manage that resource effectively, you need to track all sorts of information—from information about your employees’ demographics to salary history to their annual performance goals. How do you make sure that data is safe, accurate and easily accessible? 

  • By Soha El Borno,
    August 2012

    Crowdsourcing can help you harness the crowd to increase awareness, cultivate new volunteers, gather information and even get work done—all for a minimal investment. How can you put it to work for you?

  • By Eric Leland,
    August 2012

    From museum stores to gift shops, organizations with retail storefronts need Point Of Sales solutions that help process transactions, provide reporting, and manage inventory. What are the options in this area?

  • By Kyle Henri Andrei,
    August 2012

    Ticketing tools let you sell tickets, assign seating, and in many cases, track attendance at your organization’s events. What should you look for in a good ticketing tool, and how can it help your nonprofit?

  • By Kyle Henri Andrei,
    July 2012

    Your organization’s blog is a place to show a little personality, share resources, highlight your expertise, and engage your constituents. What are the best tools for creating and hosting a blog?

  • By Jay Leslie,
    May 2012

    Many organizations question the security of information kept in the cloud. The internet can be a dangerous place for data, but no more so than your own computer, where your data faces many of the same threats—in fact, a good cloud storage vendor is likely to protect your data better than you’d reasonably be able to do on your own. With a little planning, it’s possible to take advantage of the benefits offered by the cloud while making sure your organization’s data is as safe as is practically possible.

  • By Kyle Henri Andrei,
    February 2012

    The ubiquity of video cameras and the proliferation of video-sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo have made it possible for even the smallest organizations to include short videos as part of their outreach and engagement strategies. In this article, we look at a few good options for editing the footage you shoot and readying it for public consumption. 

  • By Laura S. Quinn,
    January 2012

    Articles, conferences and books have been devoted to the concept and strategies behind evaluating the success of programs, but there’s surprisingly little information available about how to fit data tracking and analysis software into such efforts. Until now... 

  • By Laura S. Quinn,
    December 2011

    Since most organizations don’t track just one type of constituent, the idea of a single database for all of them—donors, volunteers, clients, email subscribers, advocates and everyone else—is something of a holy grail. The ability to easily see how all your constituents interact with your organization, and with each other, makes for an attractive, ideal vision of what a database should be. 

  • By Jay Leslie,
    November 2011

    Updated for 2014

  • By Laura S. Quinn and Jay Leslie,
    July 2011

    The Google Apps donation program provides organizational email, calendaring and document sharing as a free alternative to Microsoft Outlook. How do the two applications compare in the face of typical nonprofit needs?

  • By David Deal, for the Green IT Consortium,
    November 2009

    Computers and servers can consume a tremendous amount of natural resources.  David Deal and the Green IT Consortium take a look the software that can help you reduce your environmental footprint.

  • By Jeff Walpole,
    November 2008

    Open source software applications are becoming an increasingly viable alternative to vendor provided commercial software. Jeff Walpole explores the differences between these types of software, and the pros and cons of each alternative.

  • By Laura S. Quinn,
    November 2008

    Should you consider hosted or Software As a Service software applications for your nonprofit? There are a lot of conflicting and often inaccurate messages out there: They're not secure! Use them – they'll replace your IT staff! Perhaps they'll change your life… or perhaps they're evil. What's the truth? We investigate.

  • By Peter Campbell,
    September 2008

    A major software package shouldn't be chosen lightly. In this detailed guide, Peter Campbell walks through how to find software options, evaluate them, make a good decision, and then purchase the system in a way that protects you.

  • By Michelle Murrain,
    January 2008

    Acquiring software for very little money — or even getting it for free! — can feel great. Yet is that bargain really a bargain? Learn how to assess whether that affordable software package is a great deal or a lemon.

  • By Peter S. Campbell,
    October 2007

    Let’s say you have two different software packages, and you’d like them to be able to share data. What would be involved? Can you link them so they exchange data automatically? And what do all those acronyms mean? Peter Campbell explains.

  • By Steve Heye and Steve Lancman,
    July 2007

    When you’re using enterprise software to help run your organization, the software vendor becomes a key ally – and the right relationship may be as important as features or price. Steve Lancman and Steve Heye recommend methods for comparing the intangible aspects of vendor services.

  • By Michael Stein,
    January 2007

    New integrated online software tools lead to more possibilities for nonprofits. How do you choose?   Internet strategist Michael Stein describes what's available and offers some considerations when choosing tools that can help with emailing, online donations, advocacy online, and more.

Articles: How to Choose Software