By Callie Brown-Ali, Implementation Manager at Omatic Software
Early in her 16 year career, Callie Brown-Ali served as a volunteer and fundraiser at nonprofits. Callie later transferred that knowledge to the software side of fundraising and went to work at Blackbaud, Inc. as a trainer and consultant. The focus of her work in the nonprofit space has been in database management and business process improvement/development. Callie is an alumna of The College of Charleston and currently resides in Alabama with her husband where she enjoys baking on the weekend.
Beyond Button Pushing
As a software implementation manager, it is my job to educate new users on the many ways they can maximize the utilization of their new software (as opposed to simply learning a new process to do over and over again). People often ask me how I know when software trainees really, truly understand what they are learning. As any instructor might do, I have learned to first uncover what exactly it is that the trainee needs to understand. I ask questions to determine their level of experience and how much they know about the subject matter. I enjoy seeing the transformation that occurs when a trainee learns new techniques to do their job or when they have an “ah ha!”moment. Any instructor can teach “button pushing”, but being able to teach the theory behind the processes is where my trainees find clarity. This article will focus on the importance of software training within the nonprofit fundraising space.
Fundraising Software Isn’t Pretty
Let’s face it, fundraising software comes with a steep learning curve. Most are not “out of the box” user intuitive as there are varying levels of complexity. The nature of fundraising is multifaceted with gift tracking, constituent and campaign management, which makes for an intricate product that can be a powerful tool to nonprofits. Navigating the various software programs can cause one’s head to spin, especially for organizations that are new to utilizing it. Once an organization decides on the best software solution for them, they then need to consider integrating upfront and regular training. Otherwise, they might as well start counting their losses.
Software Training: Investment or Expense?
Sometimes considered an investment rather than an expense, software training can have a powerful impact on an organization. The nature of fundraising is one that places a great importance on your database, so why would you put a novice employee in charge? It’s equivalent to handing the keys to your new Maserati convertible to a 15 year old. You just shouldn’t do it.
Additionally, without proper training, employees are less productive in the workplace and more apt to become frustrated with their work situation. As the complexity level of the software can be great, ensuring that proper training is incorporated will result in cost savings for the organization. If organizations are prepared to make the investment in the software product, but not in the training and education for their employees, they might as well throw their hypothetical wallet out the window.
What kind of software training is best for my organization?
There are four main delivery methods or software training commonly utilized by organizations.
- Self-Paced Online Learning
- Pro: Online training is an option most software vendor companies offer. This method allows trainees to view videos and read documentation at their own pace. This option is usually inexpensive to the organization and allows for users to view as many times as they need in order to understand.
- Con: It allows the users to learn when it is convenient to them however, it does not allow for interaction with a trainer or Q&A as you would have in a live training session. Additionally, free time is not often found at busy non-profits, so scheduling time for self-paced training can be a challenge. Additionally, with the amount of distractions on the internet today, it can sometimes be hard to shut off the other “to do’s” in order to completely focus on a recording. I would recommend this sort of training for refresher or product update training.
- Client Site Training
- Pro: Client site training can be beneficial in that everyone within an organization learns at the same time in a familiar, comfortable setting. This “one fell swoop” approach works best with smaller organizations where everyone is on the same page with regards to familiarity of the software and there is a limited “hierarchy” for database decisions. You can typically get more users trained for this same cost, since the trainer will be with you. Additionally, when a trainer comes to you, you have them all to yourself. Any questions you have are relevant and the floor is yours.
- Con: One obvious negative to this sort of training stems from the fact that different level users within the organization are trained in the same manner.This can be a time waster for both novice and advanced users as they are spending time reviewing what might not necessarily be applicable to them. This option may be cost prohibitive for some non-profits as there are travel costs associated with bringing someone onsite.
- Vendor Site Training
- Pro: Vendor site training is an option that many software vendors prefer. They are able to assemble their “A team” together to address all questions and topics and demonstrate all of the bells and whistles of their products.
- Con: The negative of this sort of training is with the costs associated with travel for the organization’s trainees. Whether or not the training is completed in one day or over multiple days, the trainees will incur travel expenses and therefore the organization is not usually able to send their entire team. Studies have also shown that learning is best done in a familiar environment. Additionally, when training at vendor sites, attendees are often times training on a sample database that is unfamiliar to them. So, finding parallels to your current data structure may be difficult.
- Live, Virtual Training
- Pro: The final, and most up and coming form of software training, is virtual. This method allows the trainee to ask questions as the demonstration is being done, and as I typically do, it even allows the instructor to use the client’s sample data rather than just seeing outside examples and trying to implement later. Virtual training via web conference is a preferred method of training that eliminates the need for travel, costly time spent away from the office, and can be tailored based upon the trainee’s needs. Additionally, virtual training has also been shown to have a higher attendance rate than traditional face to face training.
- Con: Of course a negative to this form of training lies with the technology itself. Ensuring appropriate internet connection and capable computer is a must. A functional computer and speakers/headset coupled with an internet connection is all the trainee needs in order to complete their training. Additionally, if your team is one that just responds better to having someone there in front of them, this can be a challenge virtually. (In a follow-up article to this one, we will discuss how to prepare for your virtual training session.)
Measuring Software Training ROI: Impossible?
Unfortunately, measuring the return on investment for software training can be challenging for organizations. There are some key factors that can be reviewed to give some clues, though.
- Productivity: An easy to use indicator for software ROI is to measure the impact of employee engagement and productivity before and after training. How long does it take them to complete the same tasks before and after? As a trainer, this is what I hear most often.“This used to take us days/weeks/months, and now takes us hours now that we understand how to do it.” Less time figuring out proper work flows and more time implementing, means greater return on software investment for the employer.
- Company Success: Another indicator used to measure ROI on software training is most typically done with company success. Is your organization benefiting from better utilization of fundraising management software? Are they better able to plan for marketing campaigns because of better database mining? Anyone who has worked in fundraising knows that without proper donor database management, organizations are left spinning their wheels with their fundraising efforts. Better database management leads to better fundraising. It’s a clear, straightforward point that need not be overlooked.
- Employee Satisfaction: By simply surveying your employees, you can get an accurate read of how they felt about the training. If they did not feel it was useful, they will tell you (and possibly request additional training). Often, employees will praise the benefit of their software training even long afterwards as they put these lessons to use. Better functioning employees leads to better success within your organization.
As a software implementation manager, I see the benefits of software training and see the benefit it provides my trainees daily. Employees are the backbone of any organization, and shouldn’t be thrown to the wolves when it comes to software training. By investing in their education, organizations are investing in themselves and are thereby building a strong organizational legacy.