Sumac Research. February, 2012.
Co-author: Ye Adam Tian
“After people, data is your most important asset.” This is the first of 10 Nonprofit Technology Commandments outlined by John Kenyon, noted non-profit technology educator and strategist. And it’s true, isn’t it? Data is the key to a non-profits’ success, so you’ve got to take good care of it! But where do you house it? How do you choose the right software? Well this is a good place to start! Here are seven things to consider, along with some fundraising software reviews and resources to help you find the right match for your organization.
7 Things to Consider
Features. Before you even start looking for software, decide what you need the software to do and make a list. What data do you want it to hold? What features do you absolutely need? One of the mistakes in Robert Weiner’s 10 Common Mistakes in Selecting Donor Databases is buying more than you need. Robert Weiner is a popular non-profit technology consultant who has written for every major non-profit technology publication. Some of the other mistakes listed: randomly looking at demos, falling in love with cool features, and prioritizing price above everything else.
Customization. Another thing you may want to consider is how easy the software is to customize. Let’s face it, no two non-profits are alike. You have different programs and different terminology, and you don’t want to build your own database from scratch if you can avoid it, as Robert Weiner explains in Why Building Your Own Database Should Be Your Last Resort. So look for software with easy customization that allows you to tailor the database to your needs.
Usability. Also important to consider is usability. Because this fundraising software is going to be an integral part of your non-profit, you want it to be intuitive and easy to use. To determine just how user-friendly it is, have a look at some demo videos, get a personal demo and ask current users what they think of it.
Cost. Does the software fit into your budget, both now and in the future? In order to determine this, you have to take into account all of the costs associated with owning the software (the “total cost of ownership” or TCO). Direct costs include the software license itself, data conversion, installation, training, and support. Indirect costs include IT staff required to maintain the system, consultants needed, and upgrades to computers needed to run the software.
Security. Since you’re dealing with donor information, security must be a consideration. There are many question that you’ll want to ask. For example: Where is the data stored? Who has direct access and authority? How is the data shared between different people and departments? How is that process managed? Is there any risk of exposure of your data to the online community?
Ability to Get Data In & Out. This one is often overlooked, but it’s so important. You’ll often want to get data into your database – a list of names and addresses for instance. You’ll also want to get data out – for email marketing, accounting or event purposes. So, being able to easily import and export data is very important!
Technical Support. Finally, does the fundraising software come with quality customer support? Really what you want to know is whether you’ll be able to contact someone by phone or email when you really need help, and how quickly they will be able to assist you. You may also be interested in seeing what other kinds of support they offer: frequently asked questions on their website, documentation, training videos, etc.
Don’t know where to start looking for fundraising software? Start here:
Low-Cost Fundraising Software Comparison:
Check out NTEN and Idealware’s Consumers Guide to Low Cost Donor Management Systems for an overview of 29 systems — what they do, recommendations for systems based on particular needs, and comparison charts.
Fundraising Software Listing & Reviews:
On a tight budget? TechSoup offers donations of fundraising software to registered non-profit organizations all around the world. Here’s a link to available donations in Canada and the United States.
This tip sheet was created by Sumac Research. Sumac is a complete nonprofit software solution that is free for small organizations and includes data conversion and installation for larger organizations. For more information, visit the Sumac website.