Five Questions to Consider When Choosing Your Not-For-Profit’s Database/CRM Software

By susanlienau | March 16, 2016 | Featured News, Philanthropy Operations

It is no secret that fundraising success requires accurate donor and prospect information to guide cultivation, solicitation and stewardship strategies. To increase effectiveness, development teams require the complete picture of the donor or prospect including giving history, volunteer participation, event attendance and wealth screening at their fingertips.  Each of these pieces allows the solicitor to understand the donor’s motivation and inclination to give.

With so many constituent record management products on the market, how do you know which system is right for you?  Fortunately, regardless of the size or complexity of your organization, there is a database solution that works best for your team.  Here are a few questions to consider as you survey your options:

  1. How many records are in the database?  Knowing how many donor records and gifts are being tracked will help narrow down the options.  If your organization has 5,000 records, it may not make economic sense to choose a platform that can support 100,000 records.  Research the smaller software providers that are better suited to the budget of your not-for-profit.
  2. What information do you want to capture?  Before starting your research, take the time to identify what information you want to capture on donors and prospects.  Many vendors charge based on the quantity of data input options.  For example, do you track event participation, volunteer activity, planned giving or wealth screening?  Each of these data fields may drive up the cost of the software.
  3. How to identify the right vendors for proposals?  Talk to colleagues at similar sized organizations.  Before picking up the phone or emailing any software vendor, find out what colleagues can share about their experiences.  Someone who is using the product every day will be able to share their thoughts on what works and what doesn’t.  Also, they may offer you alternative recommendations based on their own product research.
  4. What is the overall budget for the project?  Once the choices have been narrowed, be sure to understand all the costs associated with the software purchase.  Even database solutions that are offered to smaller not-for-profits at little to no cost may have expenses the organization must incur in hardware purchases and/or training.  If you have a database and will be converting to a new system, there may be additional costs to ensure your data mapping is accurate and all the information you want to migrate to the new database is captured.  Also, are there training costs?  The vendor, in most cases, includes initial training on the software, but is there an additional cost for tailoring training for your group?  The purchase of the database is usually incurred in the first year on top of the yearly maintenance fee.  Be certain you understand the billing and that it matches with your budget.
  5. How long will the process take from beginning to end?  If there is a conversion as part of this process, the time to be up and running will be longer than if you are starting fresh.  You want to know the down time required to migrate from the old system to the new system.  Remember, while the database conversion is in process, fundraising will and must continue.  Minimizing the time and energy spent working outside the database environment is important.

Identifying the right database software can be a daunting task with so many options in the market.  The most important thing to remember is that there isn’t a one size fits all when it comes to database software, so choose what fits your organization in capacity and cost.

– Robin Endicott, Senior Project Manager. Robin brings to Averill more than thirty years executive fundraising experience with institutions of higher education and top New Jersey healthcare systems. She is an expert in foundation operations as well as annual and major giving programs.

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