Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Should We Be Buying Fundraising Software Anymore?

The case for not using fundraising software per se...
It is highly likely that on your fundraising database, you will have donors or prospects who also have at least one other "type" of connection with your organisation. e.g. they may have bought products of some sort from you, they could be a ticket buyer, they might be a benefactor, a trustee, a volunteer, a subscriber/user of your website and so on. In which case, you may also hold their details on another database as well.

So if that's the case, then should we really be buying fundraising software anymore or should we be buying an organisation-wide system which can manage all this information?

Because the problems with having "isolated" fundraising databases include the following:
  • They only store fundraising-related information about your donors/prospects and so you don't know about their wider engagement with your charity. In which case you don't have the full picture which means you might not be getting the most out of them - or helping them as best they want to be helped - or you might be communicating with them inappropriately.
  • You might be writing to or contacting them at the same time as someone else in your organisation is also doing so - you can't manage an organisation-wide communication strategy or central contact management if you don’t know and can't control what other teams in your charity are doing.
  • Having isolated systems (fundraising and other) engenders the "But it's my data…" paradox and problem. (Why a "paradox"? Read my previous blog post on what to say when someone says "It's my data"...)
  • It is harder to do organisation-wide data analysis and marketing.
  • And if you do want to "integrate" systems - make different systems "talk to each other" - then sadly that really isn't as easy or as cheap as you might hope or be lead to believe. Even integrating two databases is tough, let alone multiple systems.

On the other hand...
But if it is that simple, that obvious, then why is there still such a market for fundraising software and why don't all charities start to use a single, centralised database. Unfortunately, it isn't that simple.
  • Specialist functionality: Fundraising needs specialist functionality in their database, from income processing, Gift Aid and managing direct debits, through to relationship management and prospect research. And other areas of your charity will need specialist functionality in their databases too: trading, websites, management of your services/service delivery and so on. And one, central, large database system may not be able to manage all that - or if it can, then can it do so with the same high levels of functionality that 'best of breed' systems can do?
  • Data/database/organisation/change management. Having one, large database makes data management and change management a lot more difficult, involved and time-consuming. If you only have fundraisers to think about then any change or new data item only needs to be considered for them. But if you have more teams and users, then it will be far more work when considering and then implementing any such changes. Similarly: where would the database management reside for a charity-wide system? It probably isn't appropriate for fundraising to manage such a broad database and, often, IT aren't really the best people to do this sort of thing. You could have a dedicated "CRM" department but that's probably only cost-effective and practical in larger charities.
  • Budgets/Organisation policies. Many charities have budgets specifically for each particular department so if you want to buy an organisation-wide system then that needs to be addressed.
  • It's hard work! Organisation-wide systems take a lot of work, time, effort, resources, discussion, buy-in and money. And often present a riskier proposition.
  • They aren't always appropriate. For some charities, it might be appropriate to completely separate the departments and functions and thus the databases. I think this is getting less common but it could be the case. Of course, even if it is right for one organisation, that doesn't necessarily make it right for another. Organisation size can play a part - smaller charities might actually find it easier to create a single, central database than larger NFPs.

But still - will we buying Fundraising Software? Should we...?
Having said all that, none of the above are necessarily reasons not to consider an organisation-wide database, they just need to be understood and planned for. And if it is the right route for your organisation and you can plan for and implement it successfully then it could well offer you significant benefits.

It's also true that some of the 'traditional' fundraising database suppliers are getting smarter and are offering systems which can manage more (much more in some cases) than just fundraising functionality. That may well be an option for some charities.

But in the meantime, whilst we are still working around some of the issues listed above, we will still be buying fundraising software at least for now.

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