Searching for a software tool can sometimes be the hardest part about getting a specific task done. As a nonprofit, tight budgets, multi-tasking and limited time make it so that when you want to find a new software tool, you just want to find something that works right then. But, no, my nonprofit friend. This is not how the game is played. Search engines, forums, mailing lists, Twitter and random recommendations become your best friends.
I wanted to map out the average search for a nonprofit member trying to approximate the methods and, perhaps more importantly, the level of patience that someone working for a nonprofit would have. So I set out to find a hosted inventory tool. Nothing too fancy. I simply wanted something that could maintain a list of the things we had in the office and I wanted to see if anything was out there that was more specialized that just using a Google Spreadsheet. Starting off, I didn’t think that my requirements were too picky or needy: Free, hosted, inventory tool with customizable fields.
Is that too much to ask?
I started off with our dear little friend Google. First, I tried the search terms “nonprofit inventory tool.” My first hit is for ENTECH, a tool that inventories hardware and software on the computer on which it is running. It could be helpful, but not quite what I’m looking for. NEXT! Sage software has a tool, called Fixed Asset Software that looks promising, keeping track of your hardware inventory, but sadly you have to pay.
My search terms brought up many job websites as well as a bunch of hits containing the words “inventory of tools” but after page 2 of the search results, I got impatient. I tried “nonprofit inventory tool” in quotes? Nothing. Apparently it’s never been typed on the internet before. How about “free inventory software”? 1st hit is for KnowYourStuff.org but theirs is a website that is focused on home inventory for insurance purposes. I might be able to make it work (maybe if I classify the office as “Living room”…?) but it isn’t hosted. Next hit that catches my eye: InFlow, an inventory tool that has a free edition (!!) but their focus is on small businesses that sell products, with inventories constantly shifting in and out. We just want something to catalog all of our stuff.
This is taking too long, so I decide to go to best friend number two, TechSoup. I search the threads looking for “inventory software” and it looks like the user “garimeltzer” was looking for exactly what I am: “Inventory software; don’t need it to invoice customers, just to track all of our stuff.” Yes! Yes! Tell us, TechSoupers!
Most replys ask him to clarify what he needs and the rest just tell him to use Access. Ugh. None of the other threads lead me anywhere either. Disappointment spreads and patience is wearing thin. Google docs start sounding like ice cream in August.
I check Idealware, an amazing nonprofit tech review website, but they tend to focus on a category of tools and do a survey (A Few Good Case Management Tools, A Few Good Accounting Packages, etc). I search around, however it doesn’t look like they’ve reviewed inventory or resource management tools (yet).
To be complete, I then search on NPower, and Progressive Technology Project. I don’t have much luck. Progressive Technology Project has a great section on databases but it’s geared more toward beginners who need something to keep track of their constituents.
Finally, on my list of possible saviors, I journey to the land of NTEN where nonprofits roam free like mustangs. I go straight to the Affinity Groups and search the mailing list threads for an inventory tool. I find a promising thread entitled “Asset management tool” and discover FileWave’s AssetTrustee, which, like many of the others, is focused on generating an inventory of the software and hardware of a computer network. After doing multiple searches for variations on “resource management tool” “web-based inventory software” “hosted inventory management” I pulled together the promising results from the threads and my conclusions are thus: I can either
- Pay for a tool
- Use a basic spreadsheet or database program like Google Docs or Access
- Use software that isn’t specifically designed for what I want it to do (like KnowYourStuff or InFlow)
Finding good software tools can be an extremely frustrating process of searching a large number of webpages and resources. Social Source Commons seeks to cut down that process so that nonprofit organizations can go to one place to get the information they need about relevant software tools. After doing a search for “hosted database” on SSC, I get 22 results all in one place without having to dig through forums, threads, mailing lists and pitches for new products. We want to take the hassle out of your search for nonprofit-relevant software. Have you had a frustrating software tool search? What is your methodology for sifting through nonprofit resources? Has Social Source Commons come through for you in the end? Let us know!