10 Software Tools We Use at Sidekick Solutions and How Your Nonprofit Might Use Them

This post is a little bit outside of the normal topics on our Nonprofit Blog, but it may be intriguing to those wondering what software tools we use at Sidekick Solutions.

We are nonprofit management software consultants.  We support four different nonprofit database software systems, Blackbaud eTapestry for donor management, fundraising, and nonprofit CRM software and Social Solutions Apricot software for case management, program management, and outcomes management.

Because we are nonprofit management software consultants, we are often asked about the software tools we use and why we use them.  As a result, this post shares ten software tools we use at Sidekick Solutions, some background on each one, and how your nonprofit organization may benefit from using them.

We hope that you take the lessons we’ve learned and the best practices we use to get more from your software tools.

1. HubSpot Marketing and Sales Platforms

Visit HubSpot’s website

What we use it for:

  • Customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Email marketing and automation
  • Content management system (CMS), blog platform, website
  • Social media publishing and monitoring
  • Marketing and sales analytics and reporting


We use HubSpot to track interactions with our contacts.  This includes interactions with prospects, clients, partners, vendors, and all other business contacts.  Hubspot isn’t our first marketing software or CRM system. For marketing, we’ve used WordPress for our blog and website, MailChimp for email marketing (free for up to 2,000 email addresses), and Hootsuite, Buffer, and TweetDeck for social media management, monitoring, and publishing.  For CRM, we started with Excel spreadsheets (very inefficient and not a good plan).  We quickly grew out of Excel spreadsheets and implemented Salesforce.  We then transitioned from Salesforce to HubSpot because Salesforce was “too much” software for our business requirements.

How your organization could use it:

While HubSpot may not be the right fit for all nonprofit organizations, it is important to invest in constituent relationship management software (also known as a CRM).  Every organization has relationships with many constituents.  As your constituent lists grow, there is a tipping point where a CRM system is needed to manage all of the data you track (or want to track) about those constituents (contact information, emails, demographics, phone calls, etc.).  A CRM (sometimes also known as a donor management system) can help your organization be more efficient and also help you be smarter with actionable information on your constituents and donors.

In addition to CRM, it is important to have front-end marketing systems that help you engage with your constituents and donors.  As your audience grows, you need tools to communicate and engage with them both online and offline.  Front-end marketing tools like email marketing software, web forms, and social media management systems can help you do that.  More importantly, the combination of these front-end marketing tools with your CRM will generate information about the performance of your fundraising, engagement, and development efforts.

There are a couple of important lessons from our journey that are worth noting and may be applicable to your organization.

  • Get into a CRM as soon as possible because managing constituent lists in Excel (or a non-CRM system) is inefficient.
  • A CRM that is “too much” software can be inefficient as well, so find a solution that is right-sized for your organization.

2. Google Apps

Visit the Google for Nonprofits website

What we use it for:

  • Business email
  • Shared calendars and scheduling
  • Online file storage
  • Document and spreadsheet collaboration
  • Internal team video conferencing and chat


In hindsight, we wish we would have implemented Google Apps the day we started Sidekick Solutions, but we didn’t.  We used local installs of Outlook and a POP3 mail server before transitioning to Google Apps.  We transitioned to Google Apps after multiple hardware crashes on our work PCs.  Our hardware crashes were unrecoverable and we lost data (lesson learned).  When we switched to new hardware (we use Macs now) we decided that we needed a system that wasn’t tied to hardware.  We needed a central location for work communication and collaboration.  We implemented Google Apps as our de facto business server where all of our mail, calendars, and files are stored.  In addition to those features, we’ve also taken advantage of the collaboration tools in Google Apps like video conferencing, chat, and file collaboration to increase organizational productivity.

How your organization could use it:

Google Apps comes with multiple features that can help your organization boost productivity and safeguard information against hardware failures.  Setup is easy and integration with mobile devices is quick and painless.  Google does all of the technical work so you can start using the system day one.  Google Apps is free for nonprofits, easy to setup, easy to use, increases productivity, increases collaboration, and is a managed software service.  All those reasons make it readily applicable to any nonprofit organization, regardless of size.

Even if Google Apps isn’t a good fit for your organization, there are two lessons from our journey might be applicable.

  • Find software tools that boost productivity so you can get more from time (a very scarce resource).
  • Safeguard against the unexpected.  Mitigate risk by understanding where risk exists and take practical steps to minimize its potential impact.

3. Asana

Visit Asana’s website

What we use it for:

  • Project management and collaboration
  • Task management and to-do lists


Asana is our project and task management tool.  It helps us get work done.  We manage all of our client projects and deliverables as well as company to-do lists in Asana.  Asana improves our work efficiency and productivity.  We needed a system that could be our personal assistant, telling us what to do and when to do it.  We needed a system where we could assign tasks to specific people, organize those tasks by project, and keep track of our deliverables so nothing slipped through the cracks.  We found that in Asana.  Of all the tools on this list, this is one of our favorites!

The decision to implement Asana came from an evaluation of how we think about projects, tasks, and to-do lists at Sidekick Solutions.  We mapped out how we managed our projects and what we liked and didn’t like about our project management systems.  We found that our preferred method of managing projects, tasks, and to-dos was on a whiteboard (how about that for old-school).  We enjoyed the fluidity of a whiteboard and the freedom it gave us to manage our to-do list.  However, whiteboards weren’t efficient enough for our needs.  We needed a solution that was like a whiteboard, but was technology based.  Asana fit that requirement.  We call it our electronic whiteboard (even though it is so much more than that).

With Asana, we manage multiple projects at one-time and develop task lists that are scheduled into the future.  As the future continues to progress forward, the pre-programmed tasks fall into our task queue.  Asana is our personal assistant, telling us what tasks are due when and what we should be working on and in what order.

How your organization could use it:

Asana is a system that your nonprofit organization could start using today!  Asana can track tasks and updates for your grant application processes.  It could be used for caseworkers to schedule next contact dates for their clients.  It could also be used to help fundraisers keep on top of daily, weekly, and monthly deliverables for different fundraising strategies they are implementing throughout the year.  If you want to get something done, setup a task list, share the list with your team, and start working on that task list collaboratively in Asana.

4. Harvest

Visit Harvest’s website

What we use it for:

  • Time tracking (clocking in and out)
  • Time management


Can you answer these questions?

  • How do you spend your time during the day, week, month, or year (what tasks or projects)?
  • How productive are you in your work and how productive are your staff in their work?

There was a time when we couldn’t answer these two questions and because we couldn’t answer these questions we were costing our business time and money.  Time is a valuable asset because it is scarce and limited.  Time is used to “get things done,” make progress, moves things forward, and be productive.  You can either increase time to get more things done, or you can get more things done in less time.  Those are the two drivers of productivity.  Because time is so important, we needed to know what we spent our time on and how productive we were with that time.  As a result, we invested in a time tracking and time management software called Harvest.

We track all time toward our business in Harvest whether its blogging, client services, administration, management, or marketing.  Everything we do is tracked down to the minute.  We use this data to determine how productive we are during a particular time period and we use time in return on investment decisions (ROI).

How your organization could use it:

Time tracking and time management are applicable to any organization.  If you have data on how time is spent in your organization, you can use that data to make improvements, increase operational efficiency, and increase the return on time.

5. QuickBooks Online

Visit Intuit’s QuickBooks Online page

What we use it for:

  • Bookkeeping and accounting
  • Financial reporting
  • Revenue and expense management


We track our time resources with Harvest and we track or financial resources with QuickBooks Online.  We’ve used QuickBooks since we started Sidekick Solutions, but it was a desktop installed version.  We converted to QuickBooks Online the same time we converted to Google Apps and for the same reasons.

We are a remote business.  We need access to QuickBooks from different locations.  We can’t all huddle around the same computer every month to review the financial performance of our business.  In addition, we have a large appetite for data, so we use the QuickBooks Online mobile application (iPhone and iPad) to keep tabs on our business when away from our desks.

How your organization could use it:

Many nonprofit organizations use QuickBooks for bookkeeping and accounting.  However, not all organizations use QuickBooks Online.  Making the transition to QuickBooks Online isn’t right for every organization, but it does offer greater security (e.g. no one can walk through the front door and take the computer or server with QuickBooks loaded on it) and better ease of access (remote, 24/7 access via multiple devices and with concurrent users) than the desktop version.

6. LucidChart

Visit LucidChart’s website

What we use it for:

  • Flowcharts, process mapping, and workflow design
  • Diagramming and visualizing complex ideas


Data management, information systems design, and database structure can be complex subjects.  We diagram complex topics visually in order to simplify information for those with varying levels of experience, expertise, and capability.  Creating visual examples is the best way to communicate complex topics and is generally easiest for others to understand.

We used Visio when we were on Windows based computers and PowerPoint, but we needed a workflow software when we converted to Mac.  LucidChart is a web-based flowchart, diagramming, and process mapping software that integrates with Google Drive and is easy to use.

How your organization could use it:

Workflows, diagrams, and process maps are incredibly useful.  They can be used to map a program logic model, program workflow, donor experience map (i.e. marketing automation), or operational methods and procedures.  If your staff needs step-by-step instructions or requires visual representations of complex ideas then LucidChart is a great solution.

7. Skitch

Visit Evernote’s Skitch page

What we use it for:

  • Screen capture and annotation
  • User guide development
  • Showing with a picture instead of writing an explanation


The best way to train our clients on the nonprofit management software we support is to develop user guides with step-by-step instructions.  User guides that are all text are difficult to follow.  The old saying is true, “a picture says a thousand words.”  We use screen captures to illustrate the user guides so our clients can actually see the steps.  Skitch is a free tool that let’s us capture full screen, partial screen, and timed screen captures.  We can then annotate those images with arrows, text, and graphics before inserting them into a user guide created in Word or PowerPoint.

In addition to user guides, we also use Skitch to communicate complex instructions via email.  Instead of writing out a lengthy email, we take a quick screen capture, mark it up with annotations, and attach it to a reply email.  This streamlines communication and gets the email conversation right to the point.

How your organization could use it:

Skitch is a great tool for fundraisers and marketers.  If you are communicating with a web developer during a website redesign or a graphic designer on print design mock-ups, you can use Skitch to markup their designs and describe changes or improvements.  Skitch can be used as a graphic way to communicate ideas rather than typing long-winded descriptions.

If you are a program manager or anyone reading or analyzing a report, you can use Skitch to markup the report and ask questions about certain metrics, ship the report back to the creator for changes, or point out important information for others.

8. Canva

Visit Canva’s website

What we use it for:

  • Graphic design and custom image creation
  • Social media profile images and email headers
  • Blog icons and website graphics


Graphic design isn’t an expertise or skill set we have on staff at Sidekick Solutions.  We hire out our graphic design work to professionals who have more experience, capability, and creativity than we do.  However, it isn’t always cost effective or efficient to hire out all graphic design work.  Sometimes we need to create images with the tools and resources we have internally.  While we don’t aspire to be graphic designers, we do appreciate quality work and are always frustrated when something doesn’t turn out right.  We’ve used PowerPoint, Adobe Photoshop, Publisher, and Paint, but it has been hard to create images and designs we are proud of.  We needed something simpler.

During our website redesign, the company that designed and developed our website recommended a software called Canva.  Canva isn’t quite Adobe Photoshop, but it is better than PowerPoint.  It is simple to use and with our limited graphic design expertise we can create quality images with very little effort.  With Canva we’ve been able to create our blog icons, custom calls to action on our website, and the headers for our software Tip of the Month email series and Nonprofit blog updates.  In addition, most of Canva’s features are free to use.

How your organization could use it:

Canva is a tool any marketing and development office can use.  Canva can be a fundraiser’s best friend.  Adobe Photoshop may be too expensive to purchase and hiring graphic design work for every newsletter, social media profile image, and website graphic isn’t sustainable.  If you are in that boat then Canva is a software solution to look into.  It is web-based, easy to use, mostly free to use, and if I can use it to create graphics I am proud of, then you can too (trust me)!

9. Wufoo

Visit Wufoo’s website

What we use it for:

  • Online web forms for registrations
  • Online web forms for payment processing


Online web forms are a critical component of our online marketing system.  Web forms allow us to capture information from website visitors, process credit cards for payment, and send follow-up emails in automated workflows.  We immediately found a problem when we began implementing web forms on our website.  Not only did we need the ability to collect online form submissions and process payments online, but we needed the ability to publish online web forms quickly with varying purposes without hiring a web developer.  Web developers can be costly.  As a result, Wufoo became the solution that allowed us to design, publish, and post new web forms quickly.

We currently use Wufoo for payment processing web forms because our HubSpot platform deploys most of our non-payment form.  But before HubSpot we used Wufoo for all forms and it worked brilliantly (including integrations with WordPress).

How your organization could use it:

Wufoo is one of many solutions that can rapidly publish embeddable web forms for your website.  A web form solution like Wufoo can be used to publish event registration forms, membership forms, donation forms, contact forms, and email signup forms, among a variety of other uses.

The ability to publish multiple forms improves marketing performance management.  The common application of an online donation form is to have one form on your website that processes donations.  Then you direct donors to that single online web form when you send a direct mail campaign, an email newsletter, or solicit donors via phone.  If you send everyone to the same form, how do you know which strategy brought in the donation?  The ability to publish multiple forms for multiple campaigns and fundraising strategies gives you the ability to segment your performance data so you can pinpoint exactly what caused the donation.  Publish unique forms with unique links for each form.  A strategy like this is possible if you have a software solution where you can rapidly deploy web forms (assuming you want to reduce the cost to deploy these forms by doing them yourself instead of hiring a web designer and developer).

10. Evernote

Visit Evernote’s website

What we use it for:

  • Note taking
  • Keeping track of ideas
  • Initial outlines for blog posts and content development
  • Internal knowledgebase development
  • Paperless filing


We like to take notes.  We take notes about client projects, tips and tricks we learn about the nonprofit management software systems we support, marketing ideas, business development ideas, or anything else that is on our mind.  In the past, we would create Word documents to jot down these notes and then save them in scattered folders on our desktops.  That process was extremely inefficient.  In addition, our notes were only accessible on our local computers.  We couldn’t access them on our mobile devices (where some of the best ideas are made).  We needed a solution that could store our thoughts and ideas and catalog them for easy access later.

Evernote was the solution we decided to use.  Now all of our ideas, thoughts, and inspirations are captured in one place and organized by note type, interests, and topic.  Everything in Evernote is searchable (even images), so it is easy to find things after they are logged in Evernote.  Initially we used Evernote for basic note taking, but now we use it as an internal knowledgebase on the software systems we support (i.e. help resources) and even paperless filing of receipts and documents we need to save for later.

How your organization could use it:

Evernote is a solution that you can use in both your personal and professional life.  You can outline your fundraising strategy for the next year, take notes during meetings, jot down a reminder on what not to do in your next campaign, develop an outline for improvements to your program design, or list core business metrics each month and keep a stack of those metrics in Evernote for easy reference in the future.  You can also keep checklists in Evernote, set reminders, and log paper files when you don’t want to store physical copies.  Everyone has ideas and Evernote is a great tool for keeping those ideas organized and available for future reference.

Getting the Most from Technology

For those that are curious, this list includes some of the software tools we use at Sidekick Solutions.  Some of these tools may benefit your nonprofit organization, so we hope you can use this post and implement our lessons learned and take advantage of these great software tools.