There are many advocacy software vendors available for practitioners to choose from to manage their online advocacy campaigns. Selecting an advocacy software vendor is an important decision that requires thoughtful consideration. Below are several topics of consideration to help you in selecting the right vendor.
1. User Experience
When you select an advocacy software platform, you should consider not only your own use of the tool as an advocacy professional, but the overall user experience for your staff, advocates, and volunteer leadership. If you select a tool that is not mobile optimized, confusing, or under-utilized by your advocates; then you may be heading in the wrong direction and might not be spending your resources appropriately.
Calls to actions, websites, social media, patchthrough calls, and other functions of an advocacy software platform should be designed with simplicity and a seamless user experience. As an advocacy practitioner, it is your job to ensure that you select a tool that your advocates can be trained to use and that the information and functionality are easily digestible to an average person. Having a tool with every bell and whistle is great so as long as you can use the features and explain them to your advocates.
2. Customer Support
Advocacy software vendors should share some accountability for the success and/or failure of your advocacy program. You want to have someone in your corner that wants you to win. You also want someone in your corner that can constantly help you improve and tell you why you got something wrong when you don’t win. An accountable advocacy software vendor will not only display a vested interest but will also hold themselves accountable if an issue occurs on their end. If your organization is doing advocacy right and trying to be the most effective organization, mistakes are going to come up over the course of the hundreds of thousands or million actions.
Advocacy software vendors that approach their relationship with the client through openness and honesty will have a much better experience and even admit when something goes wrong. If you see advertisements from vendors that promise 100% accuracy, you may want to pause with caution. If you see an advertisement that promises 100% accountability and honesty, you may have found a winner.
3. Reliable Features
Plain and simple you need to get your message where it needs to go. You need a tool that can functionally deliver your message to policymakers through a variety of different mechanisms including phone calls, text messages, emails, social media posts, and video messaging. You need an advocacy software vendor that has a robust data hygiene routine and works to constantly update contact information of policymakers to ensure accurate and timely delivery. This is probably the most basic factor in considering an advocacy software platform, yet some vendors are deficient in this space.
You want a reliable vendor that you feel comfortable with calling on the weekend about a campaign or text them after business hours to ensure a message went out. Advocacy is a relationship business and you need to work with reliable vendors to better position your organization to achieve its goals. Reliability also pertains to the tool itself. The advocacy software platform should not break, and you should not have to call technical support when you launch even campaign. Your advocacy technology should operate with reliable efficiency, but you should always have the reliable backup of support staff for those special case scenarios or emergency campaigns.
4. Robust Integrations
In selecting an advocacy software vendor, you are making an important decision that is integral to the success of your overall advocacy program. A software platform by itself is integral to grassroots, grasstops, and the advocacy communications functions of your organization. However, the software itself is a key product and service, but not the only part of an advocacy program. You may use other products, services, and even software vendors (perhaps a CRM and AMS) to serve different purposes of your advocacy program. Your advocacy software vendor should be active with partnerships with other technology vendors and be able to integrate with other software and services. If you select a tool that has a consulting option, your consultants will need to be prepared to work with in-house staff and other internal and external resources on strategic matters. When you select an advocacy software vendor, you should easily be able to answer whether the tool will work with your existing team, tools, and resources.
5. Credibility & Reputation
The number of advocacy software vendors over the past ten years has skyrocketed. Fifteen years ago, Capwiz was the main tool used by online advocacy professionals. Fast forward to present day and a thirty-minute internet search will yield at least fifteen potential advocacy software vendors to choose from. However, not all products are made equal. Some advocacy software vendors are small and run by people with non-political backgrounds. Others are venture capital funded megaliths. Some company's have CEOs with strong experience in the public affairs and digital advocacy space while others are run by life-long technology experts. And some are run by one or two people out of a virtual office.
Overall, it is important to understand whether your vendor fits your needs and organizational culture. Some vendors lean right and others lean left while others are non-partisan. It is best to look for shared connections on Linkedin, testimonials, references, industry recognition, and credible leadership. Does the vendor sponsor trade shows in your industry? Do they host webinars on digital advocacy? Some vendors cater primarily to small organizations with low budgets, while others focus heavily on large international and national nonprofits, trade group, corporations. Ultimately, it is best to focus on selecting the right vendor for your budget and needs.
6. Price & Value
If you were browsing online for a hotel, you wouldn't expect to pay the same price for a Motel 6 that you would at the Ritz Carlton. The same is true for advocacy software. There are a handful of premium products available in the advocacy software sector as well as several mid-tier and basic solutions. It is important you understand what your organization is willing to spend on a solution and what you "value" as part of the buying process. Are you focused the lowest priced option? Do you want a mobile-responsive user-experience? Do you need to integrate with a CRM? Are you looking to implement texting as part of your advocacy strategy? Do you want to work with a vendor who can help you build, manage, and execute your campaigns? These are just some of the questions that will help you in reaching a decision on what vendor to use for your digital advocacy program.