Back in the day, before I joined the Altum team, I worked as a grants manager for a couple of non-profits. In those roles, I used different grants management products, which will remain nameless. Over the course of many years as a client I became very familiar with the products, the companies, and the other clients from the user group meetings. Altum eventually offered me a job (at a time when I was no longer a client) because they understood how invaluable it would be to have someone who knows the ins and outs of every day grants management and could appreciate the demands put on grants managers. For me, it was an opportunity to broaden my grants experience by becoming intimately familiar with more grant making organizations and their processes. (What can I say, I still consider myself a grants manager at heart.)
Now that I’ve crossed over to the “dark side”*, as my grants management friends like to tease me, I can pass along the tips I’ve learned from the vendor perspective to help inform grants managers about things to consider when talking with vendors about their grants management software:
- Trust but verify. If there’s a particular feature that’s incredibly important to your organization, make sure you can see it during a demo. It’s not that the vendor would mislead about the system’s functionality (at least they shouldn’t), but it’s possible that the vendor thinks you mean X, but you mean Y. If it’s a robust system, you’re likely not going to see everything that the system can do during a demo, but if it’s a function that is necessary to your process, make sure you’re on the same page.
- Ask for references, but take them with a grain of salt. Most vendors will be happy to give you a couple of references to check. That being said, just like job references, you’re only going to get names of people who they’re confident will provide a good review.
- Know the role of your vendor contact. If your contact at the vendor is strictly sales, there’s less incentive for them to focus on “fit” as opposed to “win.” If you’re interacting with someone who has other roles at the company where they would continue to interact, in some capacity, with existing clients, they’re more likely to want to make sure you would be a satisfied customer as opposed to getting a win and moving on. Please note that this recommendation does relate more to small companies than large ones, but perhaps that in itself is something to consider.
- Understand the product’s direction. It’s helpful to know what factors are considered when they build their product roadmap (i.e. deciding what features get added). One would hope it’s based on client feedback, and that’s what you’re likely to hear, but follow up by asking for examples of features they’ve added in the last year or two. If you’re nodding your head along as you hear the list, it’s a good indicator that their roadmap would align with your organization’s needs.
Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list of what you should be asking vendors, but rather topics frequently overlooked during the grants management software search. You should also be asking about: implementation, customizability, cost, specific features, security, etc. We’ve put together a vendor checklist to help you navigate the difficult journey of grants management software selection. Check it out here.
* I know Star Wars Episode 7 came out several months ago, but I couldn’t resist. I promise you (most) vendors aren’t like the Empire.