doesn’t exist. Or at least I didn’t think it did, until I discovered Elvanto. I’m updating this post. You can read about the dilema I was in, and then below, why Elvanto is my new favorite solution…
There are plenty of choices. Their ads run in major magazines and in the sidebars of popular blogs, but the solution I’m looking for can’t be found, and I think I know a few reasons why this is so.
We’re currently trying to use one of the most popular systems. It is robust with capabilities, but it doesn’t speak my human language. To get information, I have to mine it and export reports. I can’t just “browse” stuff. It, like most of its competitors, was built by extremely smart people who speak the languages of code, databases, and systems, but sometimes struggle with the language of people. It takes more time to manage the system than to actually use it to reach into a person’s life. I know one church of about 500 who has a staff member solely dedicated to managing the church membership database, full-time. Brethren, these things ought not to be so.
Let me describe for you a few of the things I’m looking for, and perhaps you can point me to the as-of-yet undiscovered solution for which I’ve been roaming the earth these many months…
- Cloud-based so many users can access it from anywhere.
- A sweet UI, comparable to the beautiful interface of Planning Center.
- A UI designed for people who use Facebook, not database experts.
- Looks like a Mac, not a PC.
- Browsable, so I don’t have to pull any reports. My staff should never have to see the word query. Ever.
- Integrated with Google Apps so when I send an email, my contacts includes our membership data (kind of a bonus, I know).
- Integrated with MailChimp so we can send beautiful, socially advanced email newsletters.
- A simple small group finder tool that utilizes the simplicity and familiarity of Google Maps.
- Simple tools to allow small group leaders to quickly communicate with group members.
- Socially-savvy, like Rapportive, so that I can see Facebook and Twitter profile links based on email addresses (another bonus feature).
- Spiritual growth oriented so that I can very simply chart whether someone has been baptized, has been through our membership class, our maturity class, etc.
- Emails leaders automatically, including all contact info so the leader doesn’t have to login, when they’ve indicated an interest in helping in some area or a need for help in some way.
- Does NOT expect me to attend a webinar to sign up. When do you have time for a webinar about software?
- Lets me instantly have a free trial for 5 or 10 database records.
- Simple statistical tracking so I can plug in attendance and commitment numbers in 23 seconds or less and later see how many lives are being changed and where we need to improve.
And one that’s not so much a feature, but more about the company behind the app… Does not require everything down to my blood type to see a demo, which is so obviously a means of putting me into your lead-tracking, marketing, and bordering-on-spam sales flow where I’ll receive a high pressure phone call and email every other day until I finally block your number on my phone. If you build the kind of app I’m talking about, you won’t need a salesforce-like lead-tracking tool. Instead, you’ll have to figure out how you’ll scale it to handle the flocks of new users signing up.
And I’m sure there is more, but basically, something akin to the tools that 37Signals builds, but with a few tweaks for a church’s specific needs. A few come close on features, but look like they were built in QBasic on a monochrome Tandy. Others have a nicer design, but I can’t kick stuff around without signing my life and privacy over first. Oh for a true, new media and open web mindset among church software developers.
All I’m really asking for is a simple, cloud-based, socially-savvy, people-oriented app, for which I would gladly pay money for the benefits I would receive. I know you’re trying to earn a profit in a non-profit world, and that’s cool with me if it allows you to do awesome stuff for the kingdom.
Is it out there? Have I simply been unaware? If you point me to the thing for which I seek, I shall update this post to sing your praises and plug your product to the masses – for free – because that’s how this new web wide world works.
Hence my update… I love Elvanto. It has that sweet user interface for which I was searching. It’s people-oriented. It’s communications-savvy. It never demands that I understand boolean string queries. It’s customizable and tracks everything I’m interested in tracking, handles check-in’s, offers metrics, and is super easy to use. I’ll write another post about it soon, but for now, I’m following through on my promise mentioned above. Elvanto, I’m singing your praises to the masses.
One more update (9/20/12)…
We’ve just finished (I hope) the arduous task of canceling our account with FellowshipOne, a leading provider of church management software. I know people who swear by F1. I think they have a smart team of developers and everyone I worked with there was very friendly, but the user interface is heavy, bulky, and complex. We were approached and offered one free year as a church plant if we would just pay the up front setup cost ($250). We paid that, tried to use the software for a couple of months, and eventually gave up in frustration before finding Elvanto.
I did not realize the contract for the software we didn’t decide to keep using bound us for another year if it automatically renewed. I am solely responsible for not reading the contract closely enough and canceling in time, so we will be paying that final invoice for the software that didn’t meet our needs. In fact, FellowshipOne sees it as a “sign of grace” to only require 30% of the remaining contract of an unsatisfied customer. But buyer beware, many companies still operate under a marketing, pricing, and contract system that is very out of step with the new web app culture and strangely resembles the process of buying a cell phone or satellite dish. So read carefully. Some good companies, with great people and decent software, have an outdated and frustrating business model.
With Elvanto, you can cancel anytime… but I don’t think we will be anytime soon.