This week, I’m pleased to introduce David Unger. David is an accomplished fundraiser and President of Unger & Associates. His years of experience have led him to create his own donor management and fundraising software system: Total Community Manager. I’ve asked him to share what questions you should consider when looking at getting a software package. You can reach David at firstname.lastname@example.org
by David Unger
There is a common misperception about fundraising software systems. The system doesn’t raise money; it’s the people who use the information from the system to effectively and efficiently raise the needed money for your organization.
When I work with a client to transition them from their current fundraising software system because it’s “not meeting their needs”, or from a spreadsheet to a commercial or custom built fundraising software system , one of the first questions I get is should I go with system “a” or system “b”. Before I answer this, I ask the client to think through what information and the format for that information they need to help them raise more money.
When you are considering purchasing a new system, take the necessary time to explore or “map out” what you need from the system, especially to help maintain the necessary donor relationships and raise more money. Does the system:
- Have the flexibility to adapt to work within your current fundraising plan, or will you have to change to accommodate the system?
- Categorize and code different levels of donors to personalize their communication based on their level of giving?
- Track the relationships of people within the system?
- Provide the flexibility to create the reports the agency needs for its volunteers and staff to raise more money?
- Track volunteers, membership, classes, event participation and foundations?
- Help send different thank you letters to different donor categories?
When you plan for a new system have you:
- Planned and budgeted for the staff and or volunteers working with the system to receive the proper training? Is the training a “cookie cutter” approach or is it customized to maximize your fundraising efforts. You may save a couple of dollars in the short-term by reducing the training options, but it may cost you in the long term.
- Committed to the ongoing resources to keep the information updated?
- Determined that you have easy access to support?
- Learned from current and past users of the system what the ongoing themes of the support issues are?
- Determined that the program will be able to grow with your agency? Do understand what the limits of records are and will there be additional costs for that upgrade?
Then the final question is the cost. The sky is the limit as to what you can spend, but you need to decide if you really need all the “bells and whistles” that some of the larger systems offer.
It may sound great that you have “that” system, but will it help your staff and volunteers raise more money?
I encourage clients, especially smaller ones to explore some of the less well-known systems as there are great systems available for a fraction of the cost that provide customized training, direct call support, flexibility in licensing, and grant funding to help with purchasing the system for the agency.
Explore what you need from a system to raise more money, and look for the system that will support those efforts.
David, nice piece. We’ve worked with Advancing Philanthropy on an article for their March issue about questions to ask of vendors when evaluting software. The underlying theme is that we both recognize is that the organization should be in control not the vendor. The combination of disruptive technology, open architectures and changing needs of nonprofits has created a shift from vendor/product-led world to a service-led world, where the nonprofit is in control. That’s creating new and better applications for nonprofits of all sizes, and with cloud computing or Software-as-a-Service offerings organizations can source data or services when, where and how they need, with the ability to scale while only paying for what they need and use. We are seeing a significant evolution if not a revolution in how software serves nonprofits.
Tad, thanks for the feedback.
You are absolutely right, the software should work with you, not you working for the software.
Every NFP has its own little ?thing? that separates them apart from others and the software needs to be flexible enough meet those needs, while still keeping the costs down. One of the ways Total Community Manager addresses this is through the ReportBuilder. Instead of building new modules within the system, we use the ReportBuilder to pull the exact information the NFP needs to help them raise their needed funds.
Two great resources for nonprofits seeking unbiased information about how to select software include Idealware – http://www.idealware.org/ and techsoup.org. Both of these orgs are nonprofits themselves, providing vendor-agnostic information about technology solutions, as well as advice on to how to think about a technology purchase as a tool to support organizational infrastructure and growth, rather than just a one-off software selection.