Monday, September 23, 2013
Why now may be the wrong time to be investing in Fundraising Software for larger charities
These are interesting times for large charities and their fundraising database needs. They are being stretched like never before in terms of delivering technological support to the fundraising teams and they are being asked to do things they didn't have to consider a few years ago - and being expected to deliver it.
But if that means that they - you - are considering replacing your existing fundraising database right now, then I would encourage you to think twice just at this moment.
Why? Well because the suppliers to this market are all in somewhat a state of flux. Take the 'traditional fundraising database' suppliers: Blackbaud are still selling The Raiser's Edge 7, which, although still provides solid functionality, is showing its age, and Blackbaud know they need to release some sort of replacement - or replacements - whether that is called RE8 or something else. But that's unlikely to happen quickly. Yes there is also Blackbaud CRM but that is probably still just for the largest users and still to really make in-roads into the UK market.
And two of their main competitors, thankQ and what was IRIS, have both relatively recently been acquired by other companies: thankQ by the Access Group, and IRIS by Advanced Computer Software (ACS). I think, in the long run, both acquisitions should be good news for their clients and prospective clients, but we are still in the early days of both takeovers, and they are still finding their feet in terms of business approach and in terms of their own next generation of software.
Which surely then means that the new (generic) CRM solutions should be the right thing to consider? Well maybe, but maybe not. They too are going through a few changes. Yes, they are growing their customer base (not quickly for fundraising applications, but steadily), but they both have their own challenges in terms of applying their technology and platforms to fundraising needs, and there is also the question of knowing which reseller or partner one should use if one does want to buy one of these systems.
Because there are a lot CRM partners out there. You could go for one of the big consulting firms, many of which have an arm specialising in, say, Salesforce and who have huge development skills and CRM backgrounds, but what is their experience of fundraising and working with charities? So think instead of a smaller, specialist partner, who knows, say, Dynamics and who also (says they) know fundraising. Could be good if you choose the right company but there are so many around and even those with some sort of track record in the sector still have minimal experience of implementing these CRM systems compared to the likes of Blackbaud, thankQ and ACS.
And we are all still learning about the CRM systems' true capabilities as of today - and what developments in CRM systems really means for us tomorrow as a large charity in terms of commitment, resources and budget.
So what do you do if you are a large, or even mid-size charity and you do need to replace your fundraising database now? Well, if you genuinely have a burning platform then you of course need to get moving. Or if there are other, genuine risks to the continued use of your existing system or you can positively show that your fundraising income is being hurt by using your current system (and I mean really show that - not just maybe, sort of just think that because it, say, can't "do social media"), then yes, again, you should start planning.
But if not, if you just think you might need to be moving soon, or you've heard that someone else has replaced their database with X or Y, then I would caution you to consider. I think that in another 12 to18 months, some of the above questions will be ironing themselves out. Blackbaud should hopefully be able to publicly give some timescales for their next steps, we will know more about the acquisitions of thankQ and ACS, and Salesforce and Dynamics should have more live sites up and running and actually doing their fundraising on their platforms.
Of course, in 12 to 18 months time, some other great unknown will raise its head and I'll be saying wait until… Nah, surely not.