Your church needs church management software, but you don’t know where to start. So pick up the phone and call the first vendor that comes up on your Google search and they’ll tell you what you need, right? Wrong. Diving right in without knowing what your church needs is a recipe for disaster. The vendors will be able to help you determine if their system can do everything you need it to, but only you know what you need to accomplish. So before jumping in, take some time to figure out exactly what your goals are, and how you want to achieve them.
Here are some tips to help you do that:
1. Look for how the software improves efficiency.
One of the main reasons people purchase a ChMS and one of the great benefits of it is that it gives your staff members more time and makes all the manual church processes that used to take hours suddenly take minutes—this gives your staff more time to work in a different area, and overall accomplish more. So make sure, when looking at different systems to purchase, that it can really save you time and free up your staff. For instance, does it automate administrative work by generating financial reports, or sending automatic follow up emails to donors, or allowing your members to update their own contact information?
2. Map out your long term savings.
Calculate how much money the system will save you—all the manual processes you have will disappear and be replaced by your ChMS, so take note of which systems save you the most money and take that into consideration when making your decision. Sometimes, though, especially for very small churches, there will be no real cost savings. One of the main drivers of cost savings is being able to employ fewer people to handle your administrative efforts. However, some startups or small churches are managed by just the pastor and some volunteers, so there would be no real cut in terms of payroll. In cases like that, while there would not be a lot of money saved, there would still be a lot of time saved, and that time can then be focused on the ministry, which is just as valuable.
3. List your needs for the software before talking to any vendor.
That way, when you speak with different vendors, you can go down the list and check off each feature to determine whether or not the software will meet your church’s needs, and you will have a more educated and helpful conversation.
4. Do a demo of the software with any church personnel that will be using it.
While you don’t necessarily want a whole slew of people doing every demo, it’s important that the main people who will be using the software be present at each demo. They may have some valuable insight, or personal preferences, that could influence the buying decision. If the majority of the people using it end up having difficulties with the software, it will affect the efficiency and profitability of the system—and this is definitely something you should know before you make a purchase.
5. Make sure you see actual accounting reports from the software.
If accounting is going to be an important part of the system, then make sure you see actual examples of the reports it will produce. You want to make sure they have the reporting options you need, that they are as customizable as you need, and that they look the way that you want.
6. Ask the software vendor what computer system requirements are best for running the software.
Make sure you work out potential kinks in advance—if your computers and versions of software that you already have are going to make the ChMS more difficult to use, you want to know that. For web-based solutions, you’ll also want to ask about supported browsers and Internet bandwidth as well. That way you can either rule out systems, or be prepared to do the appropriate updates required to purchase the one you want.
7. Demo at least 3 systems.
While demos can be time consuming and sometimes overwhelming, it’s important you know exactly what the system does, and also be able to compare it to the other solutions you’ve demoed. That way you can see what some systems give you that others don’t, what price differences there are, whether or not it may be worth it to pay for additional features, and so on. Doing at least three can give you enough points of comparison to make an informed decision. As a bonus tip, create a demo scorecard ahead of time, and rate each vendor using the same metrics so you can compare apples to apples after all the demos are over (and to help you remember specific solutions).
8. Test out their customer service.
Even if the product itself is great, if the customer service isn’t, you have a difficult journey ahead of you. Whichever system you choose, you will want to know that the people who will be assisting you are efficient, trustworthy, and helpful. Send some questions by email and make a few test calls to their support number to see how responsive their help desk is.
9. Determine your skill level and how much support you will need.
Figure out how much you can take care of on your own, and how much support you will need. Support can often cost more money, so if you don’t need very much support, you can take that into consideration when making a decision. However, if you don’t need support, make sure that your staff or tech team are really equipped to handle the problems you may encounter—don’t overestimate your skills. If you think you will need a lot of support, make sure you talk that over with the vendor to determine how much it will cost you every time you need help.
10. Make sure it can grow with you!
Assess how much your church will be growing, and choose a system that fits your church—and that can grow with it! Don’t buy a system that fits you perfectly now but won’t be able to handle growth. You want to keep your options open and know that if your church grows, your software will grow with it and you won’t have to go through this whole process all over again.
Have any more good tips? Add them in the comments below!