My level 2 analysis is done. BIG sigh of relief. In the end, I gathered information on 22 different ChMS solutions. In most cases I spent between 30 minutes and an hour. In a few cases I spent less time because the answers became apparent pretty quickly. This second level of research was done to bring us down to a much smaller list of companies to analyze in depth. The third level involves making appointments for guided demos, watching videos, reading manuals, and talking with references. I am budgeting at least one day per company at this point, so moving a company to level 3 is a significant time commitment.
So what did I look at for level 2? I laid out a set of questions, 9 in all, as well as trying to get a general sense of the overall products. I read every feature list I could find, looked at every screenshot, tried to gather as much information as possible. Where available, I looked at customer sites. But mostly what I was focused on at this level was (1) Was the product worth pursuing and (2) Was the company the kind of company that we want to work with.
Changing ChMS systems involves a serious commitment on our end. At its most basic level I have to pay for data conversion and setup fees, but it's really much, much larger than that. I anticipate that all of our data won't move. Specifically our current database has a confidential comments section that I anticipate will not make it across in a standard conversion. If the data doesn't make it, we will have to have staff re-enter it. Because of the nature of the data, we cannot use volunteers, nor can we use just any staff. Once the data is over we have to re-train the entire church staff on the new systems. We have to train volunteers on how to use the system. We have to train small group leaders. We have to adapt our culture to utilizing the new tool (a very, very big issue). In short, it's a mammoth task. If the company we chose went out of business in a couple of years, we would have a huge problem and will have to start over. We want to avoid this if at all possible.
Now, on to the questions. I tried to answer each of these questions on my own, and when I couldn't find answers I emailed the company for more information.
(1) How big is the company. Specifically, how many employees.
(2) How many customers do they have.
(3) How long have they been in business.
(4) Are they profitable. - Without a sustainable business model, they will be out of business and our investment is shot.
(5) Technical Details - What makes the product "tick" so to speak.
(6) Solid volunteer & staff management - We need to be able to assign tasks (Call these five visitors, for example) and be able to automatically see that those tasks have been completed. If they have not, that should be readily apparent as well. It should be easy to re-assign tasks if they are not getting done. Once the task is done, there should be a record of the conversation or at least the attempts made at contact.
(7) Attendance - Our people turn in welcome forms each week, allowing us to track their attendance. While it's far from 100% and far from perfect, it gives us a way to know when people come to the main worship service. This is hugely helpful to see someone's involvement in that part of our ministry, as well as giving us a way to find if people attend our church at all. We are a big church, and a lot of people claim to come here that we have never seen. We need to be able to enter this attendance quickly and easily. We also want automated check-in for children's ministry that will record that information and streamline our recordkeeping.
(8) Assimilation - We want to know who is not going anywhere. We want to be able to help people get involved. If they tell us they want to get involved, we want our software to help us accomplish that. Furthermore, we want there to be accountability for the staff & volunteers who are supposed to help these folks along. We are trying to stop people from falling through the cracks, a significant challenge. It isn't just about pushing people through programs, it's about trying to get them involved at any number of levels and growing in Christ.
(9) Web Integration - If a member moves, they should be able to update their own record. If they change their cellphone number or get a new email address, they should be able to update that data themselves. Small Group leaders should be able to record attendance directly, and contact members of their group using our database. Ministry leaders should be able to work from home facilitating contact with groups of people. As a secondary goal, social networking fits nicely within a church. Not sure if we should simply embrace facebook or something like it, or work on creating our own space. More thought is required here. A couple of products address that particular need really well.
With the nine questions answered as best as I can answer them coupled with my overall impressions of the company and product, I drew conclusions for each product and either moved them to the next round or set them aside.
My next batch of posts will be my findings on each of the companies. I am going to break them up so that if vendors wish to reply we don't end up with one giant confused bunch of comments...