There are one or two vendors at the moment who are saying some amazing things about their “fundraising software” (and yes, I have deliberately put those words in quotes) so that if you believe their hype then you would think that you could implement their systems more cheaply, more quickly and oh so much better then any of those old-hat fundraising databases that have been around for years; and you’d be completely mad not to buy them now. Now! Apparently time is up for the old guard because they just can’t offer our WonderfulNewFunction (and we’re so much simpler to use) or they don’t run on TheNextBigThing.com platform or they don’t integrate with FaceTwitFlashSpace – which everyone knows is where every nonprofit has to be these days because they are raising, um, some money on it… And it’s starting to drive me up the wall a bit.
So, good charity folk, listen up. Do not buy a new database because a vendor tells you they are simpler/cheaper/easier. Do not buy a new database just because a vendor tells you that you must must must use the Cloud. And do not buy a new database simply because it has a link to 3 social networking tools.
Now, before my face turns red with anger and steam comes out of my ears, let me clarify one thing: I am a very much a fan of SAAS. I believe in Open Source. I really think the new, more ‘generic’ CRM systems will give the traditional fundraising package suppliers a run for their money. I do. But I am also very much a fan of fundraising packages. I believe that proprietary software can be good. And, guess what, I am fan of systems which do what nonprofits want them to do. I think that (most of) the guys that have been around for years and years and who are still providing fundraising software are here for a reason. They are not selling still simply because there are no other options. Some of the functionality you will find in the better, package solutions has had thousands and thousands of man hours of development over years of real time. A new kid on the block may be able to replicate some of that more quickly, which is great, really I think it is, but it’s also common business sense to realise that they maybe cannot do everything which a longer-standing supplier can in such a short space of time.
So what should you do? Well, buy a new database because it is the right system for you. And if it turns out that the best system for you is cloud-based then fantastic, you’ll get all the benefits of that. And the downsides. And if you end up hosting a Windows-based system on your own server – fantastic; you’ll get all the benefits of doing that. And the concerns and issues. And if it can’t integrate with FaceTwitEtc then how much does that matter? I mean really matter? Is your fundraising going to fall apart because you can’t do such integration? Or actually, more likely, is your fundraising going to fall apart because you can’t process income efficiently, you can’t segment your database in the way in which you really want to, you can’t support your major giving team, your events team, your DM and telemarketing teams. And you can’t analyse your data and use it to make the most informed decisions for your charity.
So do your system assessments based on your requirements and the benefits you will get. Of course technology will be part of that – the technology which is available now and that which will be in the future, which of course includes the web and social media. Of course, cost is important, very important, but it’s not just software cost, it is the Total Cost of Ownership, and that over (say) a 5 year period. And of course you should look at new options on the market – every now and then a new system will come along which really is fantastic and will, if not quite blow all the other systems out of the water, then they will certainly give them a damn good run for their money. But at the end of the day, you make procurement decisions based on the benefits the software will give you. It’s not one thing and it’s not that simple. And please, remember that your fundraising software has to still do all the fundamentals that you need it to do. Now.