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Avoid These Common Roadblocks in Your Search for CMS
By: Leah Readings

When you prepare for a big trip, do you think just about how nice it’ll be when you’re there, or do you focus on taking the necessary steps that will actually get you there?

Likewise, when you think about your church, do you think just about where you want your church to be in five years? Do you write lists of all the things that you want in a church management system and dream about where you want to end up and all you can accomplish with the right tools, without thinking at all about the most feasible way to get all of this?

Knowing where you want to go is not enough—you need to know how to get there. The search for church software can be like going on a quest, and you’re definitely going to need a map. Being prepared for your journey means that you need to know what to expect—and I’m going to tell you a few things that have been known to hinder many people on their quest for church software:

1. Not having a set budget
Prior to beginning your search for church management software, make sure that you know what you can afford, both immediately and in the future. You need to think also about added costs, and not simply about the upfront cost of the solution.  Here are some questions you should ask yourself:

* Will there be any added costs if I buy this software (such as hardware upgrades that might be necessary)?
* What will support cost me?
* What will any or annual upgrades cost me?

If you answer these questions you will be able to quickly narrow down the list as you encounter solutions that you either can’t afford or are too basic for you.

2. Putting price before functionality
However, as much as price is important, you don’t want to look solely at price. Price is still just one of the many factors to consider. You want to go with the product that will match all of your most important needs and also has the best price—you may have this software a long time, and you want a solid system that can manage your congregation, from attendance to donations, to volunteers and fundraisers. Deciding on a system that is “free” can still end up having its costs—you may realize that there isn’t really such a thing as a free software package after all.

Ask yourself what things are the most important to you, like:

* Expandable member database
* Child check-in
* Volunteer management
* Integration with accounting/other software systems

After identifying the functions that are the most important for your church, you can analyze which solution that has all of those functions comes at the best price instead of looking just at the price. When you focus just on the price, you could end up with software that doesn’t have all of the functionality that you need.

3. Getting distracted by unnecessary bells and whistles
When you’re demoing different systems, the vendor may focus more on the added special features, or just their strong features, and not spend any time discussing where the software is lacking. If the vendor is showing you things that weren’t already on your list of required features, then you need to decide if they’re worth it to your church, and, if they’re not, you should ask the vendor to go over the functionality that you need the most.

4. Choosing complex software your church can’t manage
If you purchase software that is robust and complicated, then you will have to be able to operate it—it can’t do that on its own. Having an enterprise level, complex software system means that you will need a highly trained group of people to manage it—if you don’t, then purchasing this new, robust system will actually make your problems worse, as your staff or volunteers will be overwhelmed and unable to manage it.

Often management problems and problems with the people taking care of the system can disguise themselves as technology problems.

For example, if you have issues with attendance, keeping your member directory up-to-date, or the accuracy of your reports, you should try to determine if the problems are because of faulty software, or if it’s because of lack of communication or insufficient training. If you discover that the problem ends up being with management and poor skills on the part of your staff/volunteers, you may just need to fix those management problems and not even need to purchase a whole new church management system.

5. Choosing the software on your own
You shouldn’t make this decision by yourself—you need a group of other people to help you make the decision and give input. If you do it alone, you may end up with a system that the other people using it don’t like, or find complicated. Each person has different processes—it’s important that they evaluate the software as well to determine if it can work for them as it can for you.

Each person should compile a list of needs that are crucial to their job, and also a list of some nice-to-have features that are an added bonus, but not necessary.

Once you’ve come up with a list of a few possible vendors that you think would fit everyone’s requirements, you should schedule demos with each of them so that you can get a better idea of what the software really looks like. It’s also a good idea to do some research and look up reviews, as well as read about other people’s experiences. If you don’t develop a good method for narrowing down your options, you will find yourself stuck with no way to really filter out the systems that will not work for you.

Leah Readings is a software analyst for Capterra, www.capterra.com.

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