Every once in a while, I’ll find a surprise while I’m searching through the files on my computer. Yesterday I came across my thesis from my Master’s degree about fundraising and community health centers.
Out of curiosity, I decided to scan through it. It seems that some things haven’t changed. Here’s what I had to say about some of the most important aspects of fund development:
- Build Relationships
- Communicate appropriately
- Provide Recognition
- Use Stories
I’m still trying to figure out how it took me 51 sources to reach those conclusions – but it was a thesis after all!
Regardless, it’s exciting to see how technology has expanded the ways that we are able to accomplish these basics. We’re able to track and more easily access information about interests (remember the days of 3×5 cards and a hole punch?). We’re able to more easily create targeted messages and send it out to just the people who are interested in it.
But, lately I seem to be running in to more and more groups who are trying to run their systems from homegrown Access databases and Excel spreadsheets. There’s so much more that a good donor management system can provide.
In case your board and senior staff is looking for justification to back up your request to upgrade to a ‘real’ donor management system, here are some thoughts regarding the two primary purposes of such a system:
- Define the people with whom the organization’s leaders should meet.
- Reinforce a thoughtful, disciplined approach to fundraising.
How do you decide who you will meet with personally and who will receive other types of correspondence? In order to use your donors gifts wisely, it’s so important to segment your donors. Now it’s possible to sift through raw data, sort it, and try to visually gauge your strongest givers over time. But it is very time consuming and the process leaves open the possibility for human error. Most donor management systems will allow you to group your donors based on certain criteria to ensure that people don’t fall through the cracks.
Data also helps to support a thoughtful, disciplined approach to fundraising. All of the literature relating to direct mail emphasizes that we need to test different approaches to see what works best for our own donors. What works in an international membership association won’t be the same as what works for a local ministry (and vice versa). Do you have a one page letter with lots of white space? Or a four-page letter? It depends – test! A good donor management system will allow you to enter the data and easily pull a report that lets you compare those different campaigns.
Technology – e-mail and now social media – have added a whole new range of possibilities (and a near infinite number of data points to track). In an ideal world, your email campaign and social media campaigns could all be tracked from the system, and software providers are beginning to make changes to allow that. The possibilities are exciting.
Now I know what you’re going to ask next. So what donor management system should I chose? Should I switch? Well, that depends too.
Your first step is to do a complete analysis of what you want your system to be able to accomplish. TechSoup offers some great resources to help you do that. In addition, AFP offers an annual listing of software providers with information on the features each of their products offer. There are many more than these, but here are a few of the features that I see as essential in any system that is supporting (or will at some point) a major gift effort:
- Prospect lists
- Solicitation schedules
- Activity reports for management and volunteers
- “Moves” management reports
- Enable relationship building
- Allow for segmentation of donors
- Support donor recognition activities
The second step is to pull together a list of 3-5 systems that offer what you need that are also in your price range (different providers charge based on different criteria – ie number of concurrent users vs number of unique users vs number of records, or some combination thereof). Once you sit through some demonstrations you might want to change some of your criteria.
A couple of side notes – make sure that you have everyone involved in the process who will be responsible for the system. That includes someone from your technology area, accounting, data entry, etc. Also, be sure to delineate what would be nice to have versus what is essential.
Feel free to add your thoughts below!