The Right Tool for the Job

by Elaina

Flickr image from user Leo-setä

I love multi-tools. I love when form meets function and when items have many uses – for instance, I love my 20-function pocket bike tool as it allows me to handle most minor repairs on the road.

That said, I also recognize a limit to multi-function usefulness, and sometimes it’s best to find the best tool rather than one that does everything. To this end, when I’m working on my bike at home, I rarely reach for that beloved multi-tool, because the full-sized tools will allow me to finish the repair much more quickly and efficiently.

I’m using the multi-tool metaphor to talk about how we sometimes look at technology. I am the first to try to reduce the number logins I need, and search for multi-purpose tools when I can. However, it’s important to not take the search for multi-tools too far, overlooking separate tools that may save us money and allow us to work better.

To make sure that you choose multi-tools appropriately and choose the best option for your nonprofit, include these questions when planning your next tech project:

1. Does a separate tool for this function already exist?
While planning your nonprofit technology project, research the tools on the market, as you likely don’t know of all of the options out there. Look at what’s available, their costs and the other features and benefits that they provide. If you don’t look at this, you will likely end up trying to make another tool work for a purpose it wasn’t intended or miss out on a tool that does this job better.


2. Do these functions really go together?
Maybe you know that separate tools exist, but your team has reasons for wanting them combined. Keep in mind though that a desire for a multi-tool doesn’t mean it will make sense for you in the long term.

For example, nonprofits frequently look into building a donor database that also handles their accounting needs. These may seem like they go together as both handle money, and maybe there’s a thought that they will save money by having the same software fill two roles. While it’s possible to build a database that does accounting, these nonprofits usually find that it’s easier and less expensive to connect two separate tools than to build them into one. Make sure you look at the Total Cost of Ownership to make sure that combining these features is worth the cost.


3. Is this the best way to complete our task?

One reason nonprofits request multi-tools is to accommodate the ways that their staff are currently doing things. They have built systems based on their old tools, or tools they are using for alternative purposes – like using Quickbooks (accounting software) to track donors and donations – and they want to upgrade their technology without changing their habits.

While this might mean that their staff need less training time, it means that they are likely missing out on new, more efficient systems used by others in the sector. It may also be expensive to build the replacement tool to your unique systems, rather than training your staff to use standard best practices.


In closing, it’s generally best to remember Occam’s Razor, the principal that the simplest explanation or solution is usually the best. As much as the 141-function Swiss Army knife is pretty cool, a smaller, simpler knife will be a much better choice for preparing dinner at your campsite.


Does your nonprofit go after technology multi-tools? What software are you repurposing for other uses? Is that working well for you? Do you wish you had the features from dedicated software?