Thursday, April 07, 2011

Fundraising Software for Arts Organisations: What Can You Buy?

With the Arts Council announcement last week of cuts in funding for many organisations, fundraising is going to become more important in the years to come. So what options to arts and cultural organisations have when it comes to database/CRM technology for fundraising?

To answer this, I am splitting this blog into two posts: first to consider the background to how fundraising software fits in to an arts organisation’s structure and secondly to examine the pros and cons of different approaches and provide some resources which list specific software which organisations could consider.

And why am I doing this, instead of just simply listing software options? Because that is often one of the fundamental mistakes that arts and not-for-profit organisations make: just looking at fundraising software in isolation of other data, other operations and contacts, and other requirements. And as that is where so many organisations can go wrong, I wanted to address that first.

Is Fundraising for the Arts different to other Charities? (And Does this Matter When Buying Software?)

My experience is that the answer to this is Yes and No. Yes in particular because the arts audience is very different: most prospective donors will either have come to an event, visited an exhibition (or sponsored an exhibition), bought a ticket for a show or have a very close link to the arts organisation; and so on. I know that is a slightly sweeping statement but my point is that I don’t find many arts organisations doing large individual giving campaigns, street fundraising etc.

And of course the fundraising for a theatre or arts centre is therefore a different “type of ask” compared to “classic” charities. You are not asking someone to help cure cancer or care for an abused person; you are asking someone to give money to something they have enjoyed (aesthetically) or believe in or want to support for wholly different reasons to health, child care etc.

And Yes-ish in that the type of fundraising is often mostly oriented to big gift fundraising, corporate revenue, trusts/grants and lots of events of all sorts. This isn’t specifically different to other charities, it is more a sub-set of other fundraising.

But of course No, in that the sort of work an arts fundraiser is doing will still be the same as a charity fundraiser: building relationships, recording contacts, making proposals, asking for gifts, claiming gift aid, writing mailshots, using the web and so on and so on.

So does any of that matter when it comes to databases and technology? Only so much in that some elements of the CRM will need to be strong for the key arts requirements and other aspects may not be so critical. But the fundraisers still need good and specialised software of some sort…

But there is one other key point within Arts Organisations which can impact software selection/solutions and that is the Other Areas of Business which an arts organisation is more likely to need to manage.

The Different Areas of Operation in an Arts Organisation

It is highly likely that an arts organisation will have different areas of operation outside the fundraising or development office. For a start, the box office/ticket sales. Then they may do event/room hire; press and PR of course; individual membership for many organisations; corporate membership maybe; patrons. Then there are the lenders, the artists, curators, key funders… and more. And as I mentioned above, many such interactions revolve around events.

Now of course some charities will have “other operations” as opposed to just fundraising, but my experience of arts organisations is that their “operational requirements” in terms of the need for IT/database/CRM systems are wider than most charities of a similar size. And yet, and here is one of the key issues for arts organisations, even though so many of those constituents I list above may be inter-linked and cross-over between different areas, and even though organisations would like to “cross-market” and create an organisation-side CRM strategy, historically, many, many arts organisations have created data silos (i.e. separate databases and systems) for each team and each area of operation.

And that is therefore a key thing which should affect and impact on the decision process in how an arts organisation approaches their fundraising and fundraising software requirements.

The Different Technology Approaches an Arts Organisation Can Take

In the second parts of this blog, I will go into more detail as to what options an arts organisation has in terms of fundraising database/CRM technology, but briefly, here are my two main categories:

i) An integrated database specifically designed for arts organisations (theatres, museums, arts centres etc): this encompasses a single database with multiple functions, usually incorporating features such as fundraising (development), membership, patron management, ticketing/box office functionality, event management and general contact management.
ii) A stand-alone fundraising database. i.e. a system only used by the development office with no functionality for membership, ticketing etc.

There is also a third option which is a “hybrid” approach to the above, whereby you might have a dedicated box office system with a separate “CRM” system for fundraising, membership, event management etc, and then, ideally, a link set-up between the two to share key data. (By the way, if that sounds easy then trust me, it really may not be!) For the purposes of this blog post I am not going to pursue this third option.

And a Final Note: Stop Using Excel!

If you currently use Excel for your “database” then stop! Don’t do it any more! There are packages I am going to list in the next blog posts which cost from £100 upwards. Use them instead! Please.

In the next post,  I will discuss the pros and cons of the above approaches and provide some resources listing different software packages.

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