Any nonprofit leadership figure knows that managing a nonprofit can be a complex job.
Luckily for you, there’s a whole range of fundraising technology out there that can make it a little more straightforward!
The problem lies in the fact that there are so many different types of technology out there and so many considerations to make when purchasing a new solution that nonprofit leadership can easily become paralyzed from even beginning the search.
The only way to get started with the buying process and to keep it on track is to do some research and know what to look out for.
This guide is an excellent first step. Here, I’ll take you through the most important considerations to make when purchasing new fundraising technology, including:
- Clarifying your reasons.
- Finding the right type of technology.
- Determining the number of users.
- Determining the number of constituents.
- Thinking about integrations.
- Asking about the true cost.
- Evaluating your vendor.
By the end of this article, you should be well equipped to find the perfect piece of fundraising technology for your organization, so you can streamline your operations and raise more from your efforts.
Let’s get down to shopping!
The first step to purchasing fundraising technology starts at home: by clarifying your reasons for shopping.
Obviously, your organization wouldn’t be entering into the buying process if there weren’t some aspect of your internal operations that you’d like to fix, change, or improve.
Before entering into the buying process, it’s important to clarify just what exactly those aspects are, so you can find the technology that will best address your needs.
Nonprofits shop for fundraising technology for any number of reasons, but all of these reasons fall under two main scenarios: adopting a new type of technology or switching to a different platform.
Nonprofits adopting a new type of technology are likely doing so because:
- They want to provide their donors with a more convenient and modernized fundraising experience.
- They want to facilitate specialized efforts (for example, peer-to-peer fundraising, fundraising events, etc.).
- They want to manage data more efficiently.
- They want to free up staff hours by automating previously manual tasks.
- They want to gain deeper insights into their constituents and/or performance.
- They want to better oversee and organize staff and volunteer efforts.
Nonprofits making the switch to new technology are likely switching for similar reasons, but they might also have some unique concerns, such as finding technology that’s more:
- And/or intuitive.
Chances are, your organization is likely shopping for a combination of reasons.
But no matter what, it’s important to identify which are most important to you. That way, you can find the solution that’s sure to help you achieve the most success, both in regards to your fundraising and in regards to your operations.
Bottom line: The only way to find the technology that will most thoroughly address your organization’s concerns is to determine your reasons for entering into the buying process.
As I mentioned in the intro, there isn’t simply one type of fundraising technology that nonprofit leadership can turn to; there’s a whole range!
Now that you have your reasons in mind, it’s time to do some research to figure which type of technology can best address those reasons.
While not an exhaustive list, here are some of the most common technological fundraising solutions:
- Donor databases/nonprofit CRM.
- Online giving software.
- Mobile giving software.
- Event planning software.
- Peer-to-peer software.
- Advocacy software.
- Membership or association management software.
To narrow in on the technology that’s most fitting for your organization, you’ll also want to think about the specific efforts and campaigns you’ll be using your software for.
If your organization is looking for something to facilitate your generalized fundraising and stewardship efforts, the most probable solution would be a donor database. This software allows you to track all information about your constituents to build more personalized and profitable fundraising campaigns.
If, on the other hand, you were looking for technology to help you run your next walkathon or fundraising auction, your organization would probably benefit from a more specialized solution (in this case, event planning software).
Bottom line: The term “fundraising technology” encompasses many different types of solutions. Do some research and consider which efforts you need assistance with to ensure you’re shopping for the most appropriate solution.
Once you’ve targeted the ideal type of solution, it’s time to think about the logistics of putting this solution into practice.
One of the most important logistics to determine early on in the purchasing process is how many users will need to access your software.
While this consideration probably doesn’t seem like the most intuitive, it’s absolutely essential.
That’s because the price of fundraising technology is often partially influenced by the number of users who can access it. Fail to anticipate your users, and you could be buying software that not all of the necessary staff members can access, thereby limiting the success of your operations.
Before you start looking at any particular solutions, think about who will need to access the software to do their jobs effectively.
When you have a definitive number (or the closest you can get to one) in mind, you’ll be much more likely to buy a platform that everyone can use.
Bottom line: Fundraising technology is often priced by how many users it can accommodate. To find a solution that all of your staff can access, make sure to take a headcount in advance.
Users aren’t the only people who can influence the price of your fundraising technology. Your constituents, can too!
To accommodate nonprofits of all shapes and sizes, vendors often factor the number of constituents into the price of their software.
So, during the initial stages of the buying process, your organization should be taking a headcount of your constituents, too.
Remember: your constituents aren’t just donors. They can also be:
- Event attendees
- Board members
- Staff members
In other words, they can be anyone who plays a part in your organization and whose information you need to track with your software.
Your new technology will empower you to better get to know your constituents and start building stronger relationships with them. But it can only do so if you have room to house all of them!
When determining the number of constituent profiles you’ll need your software to hold, it’s best to start with a clean set of data, so you can get the most accurate count.
Do a little spring cleaning beforehand (trust me, it will come in handy later, anyway!). Delete any duplicate records and out-of-date data, and confirm contact information with your donors.
You should also leave yourself a little wiggle room to account for future growth. Obviously, you don’t want to waste money on a platform that’s too large for your current needs, but you should be leaving yourself some room to grow.
You don’t want to have to enter into the buying process again too soon, after all!
Bottom line: The number of constituent profiles can influence the price of your technology, too. Determine how many constituents you’ll need to house (with a little extra room!) to start shopping for a solution that can fit your needs both now and in the foreseeable future.
Oftentimes, achieving the most comprehensive solution requires a combination of more than one type of fundraising technology.
This is a bittersweet fact. On the one hand, your organization has the ability to customize a solution that’s perfect for your needs. On the other, it can often require some tricky mixing and matching.
And that brings us to integrations.
Integrations refer to third-party platforms that nonprofits can combine with a base software solution to expand that solution’s functionality.
Some common fundraising integrations include:
- Email marketing
- Payment processing
- Matching gifts
- Social sharing
- Wealth screening
To clarify, let’s discuss an example.
Say your nonprofit is buying a donor database to more effectively track relationships with your constituents. The database itself is a good start, but it doesn’t do much in terms of letting you reach out and communicate with your donors. To do so, you would need to integrate an email marketing service with your CRM.
If your organization needs additional functionality on top of your base software, you’ll need to make sure that the platform you’re buying either:
- Integrates with the services you’re already using to supplement those functionalities. So for example, if you were already using MailChimp to send out email newsletters to your donors, you should see if your new CRM supports an integration with MailChimp.
- Or can support integrations with services that provide these functionalities. So, if you weren’t currently using a service to provide you with email marketing capabilities, you could ensure that you’d be able to obtain this functionality relatively simply.
Integrations can potentially hike up the price of your software or lead to a more difficult setup process, so they’re definitely something you want to consider before getting to the contract.
Bottom line: Nonprofits often rely on integrations to provide them with the full feature set they want from their technology. Consider which integrations you might need and ask your vendor about them, so you’re buying a solution that fully addresses your concerns.
You might have noticed a subtle theme running through this piece: the price of fundraising software can be influenced by many (often unexpected) factors.
However, many nonprofit leadership figures aren’t aware of this fact. They see the list price for the software they’re considering on the vendor’s pricing page and assume that accounts for the full cost.
The price listed on the vendor’s pricing page usually only factors in the feature set included in the base software, the number of constituent profiles the software holds, and the number of users it supports.
It doesn’t usually account for costs associated with:
- Payment processing
These are just a few of the hidden costs that are often associated with software. There could be more or less depending on the platform; but the most important thing is to be aware that hidden costs are common with fundraising technology.
The only way to figure out the true cost is to ask your vendor.
The goal, of course, is to ensure that you won’t be putting more into your fundraising strategy than you’re getting out of it.
Bottom line: The true cost of fundraising technology isn’t always what’s represented on the vendor’s pricing page. Make sure to ask about costs outright, so your organization can be sure that the purchase is a sound investment.
Adopting or switching to a new piece of fundraising technology can be a big change for your organization.
When purchasing—and throughout the time you’re using your software—you should be working with a vendor who’s supportive enough to help you successfully manage every step.
That means, alongside evaluating the software itself, you should also be evaluating your vendor.
They’ll play a huge role in helping you set up and maintain your software, so you want to be sure that the vendor is the right fit, just as much as the platform is.
To evaluate your vendor, you should be looking at 3 main things:
- Data transfer
1. Data transfer.
To get your software up and running, first your organization will need to transfer all of the existing data you have.
Data transfer can be somewhat involved. It’s a multi-step process that includes:
- Cleaning your data.
- Exporting it from your existing systems.
- Importing it into the new system.
- Cleaning it again (in case there are any duplications or other errors during transfer).
Some vendors provide more support with this process than others.
If you anticipate that data transfer will be difficult (or if you just want some extra assistance), make sure you’re working with a vendor who can provide a data review. They’ll do a full analysis of your data to determine whether or not you can handle this process on your own, or if you’ll need full or partial assistance.
The second main part of setup is teaching your staff how to use the new platform.
After all, even the most robust fundraising software won’t function to its full capacity if its users don’t know how to utilize it.
Most vendors provide multiple training options at different price tiers, so your organization can choose the type of training that most fits your needs.
How training is run will vary from vendor to vendor, but commonly training takes one of two forms:
- Prerecorded. The least supportive training option comes in the form of pre-recorded training videos. While this option is usually inexpensive (or even free), the downside is that training won’t be customized to your organization, and you and your staff won’t have the opportunity to ask questions.
- Customized. Most vendors offer customized training as well, either through online or on-site tutorials. While customized training can be expensive, it can be a worthwhile investment, because you and your staff can view the modules that your organization will be using most and ask any questions that arise throughout the process.
Whether or not you invest in customized training is up to your organization, but if your staff isn’t so tech-savvy or if this is the first time you’re using fundraising technology, it’s advisable to opt for a more supportive training option.
Perhaps the most important part of selecting a vendor is choosing one who provides attentive IT support.
If your organization ever runs into any technical difficulties with your software, you should have a vendor who’s readily available and also provides a quick turnaround time for addressing those issues.
Otherwise, your operations could be negatively impacted for days or even weeks. And who knows how many stewardship and fundraising opportunities you could be missing out on if that happens!
When talking to your vendor, make sure to ask the following questions:
- If I ever run into a problem with my software, what’s the best way to get into contact with a consultant?
- How frequently are IT consultants available?
- What’s the typical turnaround time for addressing technical difficulties?
- Is IT support included in the price of my software, or will it be an additional fee?
It can also be helpful to consult a second opinion. See if your vendor will provide you with some current users who can give you some additional perspective on your vendor and their services.
Bottom line: Choosing the right vendor is just as important as choosing the right technology. To ensure you’re working with a vendor who can address your nonprofit’s needs, don’t forget to ask about data transfer, training, and support before you buy.
Buying fundraising technology can be a somewhat involved process, but it will be much more straightforward when you go in with the right considerations in mind.
Make sure to do your research and ask these important questions during the buying process, and you’re sure to end up with the perfect solution!