Monday, October 27, 2014

Why online giving platforms and your own fundraising database are not best friends

Drifting Platform 
The IoF/CFG recently published a new report, "A practical guide to selecting and using online giving platforms" and I was pleased to see that the data collected from such platforms and, to a degree, the integration with your fundraising/CRM databases was acknowledged as a factor. However, I think such integration is sometimes promoted as being easier than it really is; and sadly, integrating or importing said data into your own fundraising database is often much more awkward, time consuming and costly than charities realise.

There are therefore a number of things I think you should consider if you do want to get the data from your online giving platform into your own fundraising system:

First, the data basics
Just because a platform provides a file of donors/donation data in an Excel/csv format doesn’t mean you can import it quickly into your fundraising database; e.g.:
  • You need to consider duplicates - how will you identify if an online donor is already on your fundraising database? And even if you can, can you easily update data correctly? i.e. if you do find a duplicate then is there any data which you should update on your own database? Or should not overwrite?
  • Some fields in your downloaded file may need to be split (or even concatenated); e.g. name, address fields.
  • Some fields may exist in your downloaded file but not in a way which can directly be added to your database (e.g. Gift Aid declaration data/flags, opt-in/out flags).
  • Other fields not in the downloaded file may need to be added to a file before you can update a record on your database (e.g. source, fund/campaign codes) etc.
  • Gift Aid flags need to be carefully updated so there is no double-claiming in the future.
  • Then you have regular giving and how to distinguish/code/incorporate these, and match income when it comes in...
  • And you have the issue of Soft Credits and how to apply those to who…
There are also sponsored events to consider, which are of course where so much data comes from the online giving platforms. It's all very well including sponsors who have ‘opted in’ to receive more information from you, but if it takes more time/effort to import then what are the expected benefits? Are those people really interested in your organisation or just the person they sponsored? What is the real likelihood of getting a further donation from them?

And the reason all this is important is because if you do need to manipulate and change the files you are downloading from the online giving platforms, then someone in your charity (i.e. usually someone in your database team... if you have one...) has to do that. Some charities are better than others at doing that and some do automate such processes in Access/Excel macros etc, but I know many who still do at least some manual work, and some who do considerably more than "just a bit".

Some (potentially) better options
There are of course more automated ways of importing all this data. e.g. JustGiving provides an API which means you could import such data much more efficiently. And some of the fundraising packages and some of the fundraising templates now provided for Salesforce/Dynamics even have 'out of the box' functionality written for you to do this. Which is definitely a good start. But remember that even those pre-defined processes might not always do exactly as you want.

And if any online giving platform says “oh, we have an API so you can integrate us with your database…” then, well, just be aware - it ain’t necessarily as easy as it sounds! If you have internal programmers and techies then great, that’s an option. If not, it will cost you money.

The benefit and curse of multiple online giving platforms
Of course, the kicker is that for all the above points, you need to consider all of them separately for each online giving platform because each platform's data and file format will be different… That's why database teams groan (inwardly) when they hear about the "next, great online giving platform", because they know where the buck will stop in terms of getting that data into your own fundraising database.

And talking of bucks, this final step of getting the data into your own system is sometimes not considered when looking at the total cost of different systems. Sadly, it does seem to be assumed by some charities that if a database team can do one such solution then they can do another without any additional cost/work. And as I am saying, this is not the case.

Don't get me wrong: I love the fact these platforms exist and it has revolutionised fundraising. But to maximise future fundraising benefits, you need to get data from those platforms into your fundraising database and use that for future marketing. And that is not always as easy as it sounds.

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