Two nonprofits similar in mission and staff size are using donor management software to track donations and fundraising activities. The first organization has a database full of bad data. Donors are not getting receipts; deceased donors are getting appeal letters. Staff members have not been trained and there is no support. They complain that the software does not work and that they hate the system. The organization is handcuffed when planning their fundraising strategies or tracking their effectiveness. The second organization loves its donor management software. The data is clean, their donors receive accurate mailings, the organization is successfully managing their fundraising activities, and staff love the reports. New personnel are trained on the software before they ever log in and support is available to resolve any problems and questions that come up.
Here’s the kicker: Both nonprofits are using the same software package.
How can this be? It is quite likely that the first organization never had the right software to begin with, and then proceeded to use it incorrectly. They made a series of bad decisions and have been struggling with them ever since.
Let’s take a look at the steps for selecting and implementing the right donor management software for your organization.
1. Gather input from all levels:
Purchasing new software to manage donors and fundraising activities will affect many areas within your organization. This is a decision that should not be left up to one individual, i.e. the office techie. It is critical to get input from the people who will actually use the software. You do not need to include every staff member, but you should have contributions from all levels of the organization, especially those who may be impacted by a new system.
2. Create a budget:
It is always prudent to know what you can spend before you go shopping for a new item. Before you sign a contract make sure you can afford the item now and in the future. Understand that support and training of new personnel will need to be included in the budget for each year. A good rule of thumb: If you cannot afford to train your staff and pay the annual support fee, do not buy the software.
3. Address current and future needs:
Understand the current system you are using. Ask what works and what doesn’t. What codes and reports do you actually use? Next, develop a list of needs. It can be as general as, “volunteer tracking”, or specific, like the ability to manage recurring gifts based on a payroll deduction campaign. Always keep in mind future needs, especially if major organizational changes are anticipated. Once all the needs are listed you should rate each item as “mandatory” or “wants.” Mandatory is defined as a feature that must be included in the new application or you must reject the software from consideration, no matter what else it can do. The “wants” list should be ranked in priority order (e.g. A, B, C). Your donor database has to meet your needs and provide room for growth.
4. Prioritize price:
A fool knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. The goal is to purchase a product that meets your top needs, fits your resources, and offers the best price. The best price is relative to your return on investment. Software that will provide better control over your fundraising programs, manage your donors and appeals, track your results, and analyze your fundraising effectiveness is an investment that will pay dividends for many years.
5. Understand your staff:
The more complex the software the more computer skills your staff will be required to have. Under-trained staff and poor management will not be solved by new software, in fact the problems will probably get worse. Review your staffing and procedures as part of the decision making process. Understand that staffing issues can masquerade as technology problems. For example, getting accurate reports might not be caused by the donor management software as much as it is sloppy data entry.
6. Purchasing software is the easy part:
You have signed the software agreement now what? You must focus your attention on the data conversion and the database setup. Decisions need to be made on what data will be converted to the new database. Designate a single point of contact to the software vendor for questions that will arise during the conversion.
Once data is converted, testing will need to be done on the database. New codes and business processes will need to be defined. Setting up security for all users will be a critical component. Developing policies and procedures for your database management will help with the integrity of the data entry.
7. Keep the database alive:
The death of most databases is neglect. To avoid this, make one person in your organization the “database manager.” This manager will maintain that your data entry procedures are documented and followed. They will run periodic audit reports to identify problems.
Another key will be to make sure that staff is trained on new features and procedures and new personnel are trained before they begin data entry.
New software applications typically change the way work gets accomplished. You will need to constantly review how data and paperwork move through your organization.
Lastly, the organization should budget for ongoing hardware and software upgrades, annual support fees, and additional training from the software vendor.