What are the Pros and Cons of an Integrated Database for Arts Organisations?
This may sound like a slightly stupid question – I mean, what could be the downside of having a single system?! And isn’t it obvious why a single system is better?
First, the benefits:
- All contacts are in one, single database. Fantastic! And this of course is the core benefit. You don’t have to transfer data between systems (and no matter what anyone tells you, that does take time, technical knowledge and money), you don’t have to ask someone else to check if a donor is already on the membership database. All your staff can access all the key data about each contact – it is easy to look someone up and find out their relationship and history with your organisation.
- You will avoid the embarrassment of one of your staff contacting a prospect for £50 when someone else is about to ask them for £50,000 (etc). You can manage all your data protection needs, opt-in/outs, mailing preferences et al all in one place.
- Your staff will only have to learn the user interface of one system. Very nice benefit.
- You can do cross-marketing far more easily. With all contacts in one system, you can analyse, segment, target and contact groups of people far more easily than you can do if you have the records in different systems. You can of course extract records from multiple systems into one “marketing database” but that still requires time, effort, usually a fair degree of technical nous and the ever-recurring need to identify duplicate records across the systems.
- And thus, you have the foundations for an achievable, central contact strategy – a real “CRM” strategy. That’s amazing.
- With a few exceptions, most of the suppliers of these sort of systems are not the large (sometimes multi-national) companies which can be found in the charity sector. So if you are not a large arts organisation, then if you buy an integrated database from a mid-size supplier, you may well have a closer relationship with them. (And before all the large suppliers scream, I know this isn’t always the case! But I do know that some small-mid size arts organisations I have worked with like the smaller suppliers. Plus, read my final downside below…)
- I still have yet to see an Integrated Database for an Arts Organisation where the functionality, ease-of-use, reporting and so on is equal to or better than the functionality, ease-of-use, reporting and so on in the best, stand-alone fundraising, membership, ticketing, event or CRM systems. And this is therefore probably the biggest decision you need to make: do you accept that you may not get all the wonderful and highly sophisticated features which you would find in a dedicated fundraising database and you may not get the beautiful interface of some of the online CRM/event software systems – but you will get a single system with all your data in one place. This, I believe, sadly, is the compromise. (Suppliers – you are welcome to challenge me on this! And I would love to be proved wrong! But at the moment, that is my belief and experience).
- Change Management. Implementing an organisation-wide system requires a serious and structured approach to change management in the organisation. Do not under-estimate that! It will force people to think about things they have never had to think about before because, before, they only had their team to worry about. Don’t forget this.
- Security. If you have a single system, then you might find that there is some data on some records which some staff should not have access to. Some systems will be able to manage that, but not all.
- You may need a Database Manager. Ironically, if you have previously had separate systems, then you may not have needed a person in your organisation to act as the “database manager”. A single system will almost certainly mean you do need such a role. Not necessarily a technical person, but someone who can centralise data integrity rules, add codes to look-up tables, create policies and procedures, understand the more complex parts of the database for “cross-marketing” etc, and be the “go to” person for all the other staff for when they forget how to do something or want to know how to set-up a new event or campaign.
- There may be other costs you didn’t have before. E.g. does the new system require a larger, dedicated server? Does it require additional, third-party software? Will you have to re-vamp your web site?
- With a few exceptions, most of the suppliers of these sort of systems are not the large companies which can be found in the charity sector... So you may run the risk that a small supplier will go out of business or cannot invest enough to create newer systems for newer technology as that comes along.
And what about a Stand-alone Fundraising Package?
Not surprisingly, the pros and cons of dedicated fundraising databases are primarily the opposite of above. There are some great, extremely sophisticated fundraising software databases available and you should be able to do all your development on them. They of course vary a great deal in price, functionality and quality, but they do come in all sizes and price ranges from £100 upwards. (See more below on the Resource Listings). And it is “simpler” to buy in that you only have to worry about one team, one set of requirements, one budget etc.
But of course if you implement a dedicated fundraising package (or any other stand-alone database within your operations) then it will primarily only provide benefits to that department. If one of your prospects or donors is also on the box office system or email list held on the web database, then you will only know if you look or try to synchronise data between systems. And you can’t stop someone else in the organisation from contacting your key prospects because if a prospect happens to “enter” your organisation through a different route, then your other staff cannot always be expected to ask you every time they meet someone if they are an important prospect or donor.
Of course, this is not a problem unique to the arts but, as I mentioned before, because of the likelihood of multiple operational databases existing in an arts organisation, it tends to be more common and the problem more pronounced.
So Should You Buy an Integrated Database?
I personally believe in single, central databases. Not just for arts organisations, but for all not-for-profits. I think the benefits usually outweigh the downsides. And if you have the option, then I would always at least consider this possibility.
As I say above, you may well need to compromise on some functionality, some ‘look and feel’ or some ease of use. But if you can do this then, as I say, at least consider them.
And if you find one which is right for you then that’s great. If not, then at least you looked. And if you cannot compromise on a specific requirement and you don’t think that any integrated system can meet your needs then of course you shouldn’t necessarily buy one. I am not saying buy a single system above all other considerations. But do look.
- UK Integrated database software for arts and cultural organisations: www.itforcharities.co.uk/artssw.htm
- UK Box Office Software: www.itforcharities.co.uk/boxoffic.htm
- US Ticketing Software: www.technologyinthearts.org/?page_id=474
- UK Fundraising Databases: www.itforcharities.co.uk/fundrais.htm
In addition, for very small arts organisations who really do just want a simple, low-cost fundraising or membership database, then the following are options as well:
- KISS Software Solutions: www.kissoftwaresolutions.com Lots of fundraising functionality, membership too, but slightly aging interface; but for £100 you can’t even make a database more cheaply in Access.
- ITSorted (ContactLink): www.itsorted.org.uk £400 upwards. More for membership and events but lots of nice additional features too.
- Ravensdowne: www.ravensdowne-software.co.uk/membership/membership-software.aspx £295 upwards. Membership software.
And because they offer an alternative approach to the traditional packages listed above, some organisations might also find it useful to consider a “generic” CRM solution, especially as they are being implemented by the not-for-profit sector more and more and with increasing support from suppliers specialising in providing “templated solutions” for fundraising and membership requirements. Note that the real costs for these systems comes more in the implementation than the software.
- CiviCRM: http://civicrm.org/ Open Source constituent relationship management system with membership, event management and more. Great system but probably not for the beginner in terms of set-up.
- Salesforce: www.salesforce.com/uk/ Salesforce is a “generic” CRM system which is gaining plenty of users in the NFP sector because it is free for the first 10 licenses and reduced pricing thereafter. And it is web-based so lots of benefits from that.
- Microsoft CRM: http://crm.dynamics.com/en-gb/ MS CRM is also a “generic” CRM system, and again with lots of NFP users. Cheap Microsoft pricing for charities.
A Final Note to Suppliers
If any suppliers want to add Comments below on any of the above then by all means please do so. All constructive comments are welcome (and a link to your site is fine) – any blatant sales pitches will be removed!