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What is the best fundraising software?
Though recommendations from third parties may help you narrow down the wide selection of nonprofit CRMs available, only you and your team know what’s best for your organization.
So before delving into features, ask yourself: How can fundraising software help you achieve your organization’s goals? The solution you choose should be tailored to help your staff manage fundraising campaigns and donor data efficiently and engage and grow your donor base.
There’s a “best” fundraising software out there for you. To find it, keep your unique goals in mind as you explore this guide to determine what’s possible.
Find your path to simplicity
Start here: what would you love to achieve within twelve to eighteen months? Goals can include:
- Gain insight into donor data
- Enhance online fundraising
- Improve donor retention
- Boost revenue from fundraising events
- Streamline operational tasks
Now ask yourself, what’s keeping you from achieving that goal?
Many nonprofit professionals will tell you that the answer is “time” and/or “resources.” By investing in automation and organizational tools that let technology take over on the day-to-day tasks, your team can devote more of themselves to your organization’s big-picture initiatives.
If you could make anything easier, what would it be?
Which tasks are slowing your team down the most? Rather than compare nonprofit CRMs by the “ease of use” category alone, it’s important to analyze those particular fundraising software features that are currently causing you headache.
3 fundraising software essentials to consider
Never underestimate the value of services that are designed to ensure you’re set for success from the moment you purchase your software and beyond. Check out the following breakdown of offerings you may want to consider when evaluating fundraising solutions.
When you invest in fundraising software, it’s important to start off on the right foot. A thorough setup and configuration of your software system is needed to make sure your data is properly transferred, and the fields and functions you’ll depend on are set up to your organization’s specific needs.
As you investigate, be sure to ask specific questions about setup, like:
- Do you have an onboarding team devoted to delivering full data conversions?
- How long is the onboarding process?
- Do you offer a consultation to fully customize my system to my needs?
You should also know the state of your current operations
Be sure to keep the length of setup in mind as you plan so your transition is a smooth one. Some things to consider:
- The conditions of your current contract and when it expires
- Giving yourself time to get familiar with your new software
- Cleaning up your database so you can “start fresh” with a new system
Fundraising software training is essential to maximizing your investment. No matter how intuitive a system may be, there are always a few questions, tips, and tricks that a training professional can help you with so you get started on a solid foundation.
Options and pricing will vary from product to product, but make sure you consider:
Online and webinar training
An instructor virtually guides you through common nonprofit tasks and best practices on how to use your system in real time. These online and webinar training sessions can be private or public. Learn more about pricing options and training format to decide which is best for you.
An instructor travels to your place of business to teach you how to apply your new features to your existing processes, one-on-one. You can meet with an instructor individually or choose to have additional staff members attend. This option is typically more expensive than online and webinar training.
It’s important to make sure that the company you’re choosing goes beyond training basics by providing:
- Expert webcasts – Attend online learning sessions hosted by industry experts.
- CFRE certification – Obtain certification for fundraising professionals who demonstrate the knowledge, skills and commitment to the highest standards of ethical and professional practice in serving the philanthropic sector.
- An interactive online community hub – Connect with other nonprofits, review your support case history, learn new features, and discover useful tips and best practices.
An account representative should be able to provide you with everything you need to know about training options and work with you to determine which type of training is best for your team and your budget.
Whether they’re remote or all under one roof, your team should be able to get help fast when they need it. Levels of fundraising software support typically include phone, email, and chat.
Be wary of software solutions that don’t offer phone support
When you’re in a time crunch and need a quick fix, having an expert a phone call away is critical to getting things done. Phone support is also helpful when you want to tackle a complex issue that requires a conversation.
Know you’re not alone
When you work with a fundraising software company that understands the obstacles and challenges involved with being a nonprofit professional, you can be more confident in the service you’re getting.
Learn from a community of your peers
Are you able to interact with other nonprofit professionals to ask questions, share tips, and learn best practices? It’s a good idea to look into the network that your fundraising software can provide, so you can connect, collaborate, and engage with fellow members of the nonprofit community.
Don’t fall for an all-or-nothing contract
Flexibility on nonprofit software pricing and contracts is paramount to ensuring that you’re always investing in software that fits within your budget. A quality solution shouldn’t require a long-term contract. It’s your satisfaction with it that should encourage you to keep your subscription. Just like cell phone plans, fundraising software contracts can be tough to get out of, so be sure to use caution before choosing a solution that would trap you in for the long haul.
Make sure you’re getting the real deal
Knowing who you’re working with is equally important as knowing what you’re working with. The following are a few steps you can take to help you feel confident that the fundraising software company you’re placing your trust in will be there in the future to support your investment.
Does the company have a strong reputation?
Here are some questions your research should answer:
- What’s their history of developing solutions for nonprofit professional fundraising and donor management? You’ll want to seek out a company that thoroughly understands the nonprofit community through years of experience serving it.
- What relationships does the company have with other companies in the fundraising software market? Your software should be compatible with popular nonprofit tools and integrations you already use, like your nonprofit accounting software or email fundraising tool.
- Are they affiliated with any nonprofit professional organizations? These types of partnerships are reflections of the trust the organization has in the software company.
- Does the company have any certifications with other well-known companies?
- Are they financially secure? You want your vendor focused on you, not shareholders or venture capital funds.
Do your due diligence by reading third party software evaluations
Independent nonprofit organizations NTEN and Idealware partnered to conduct A Consumers Guide to Low-Cost Fundraising Systems, a comprehensive study of 32 fundraising solutions designed for small to medium-sized nonprofits that ranged in price from just a few hundred dollars to nearly $6,000 per year.
The 32 systems were narrowed down to 11, based on which systems possessed the best combination of functionality, price, and popular features most requested by nonprofits.
Each of the 11 systems was entered into an apples-to-apples comparison to equip nonprofits with a simple, straightforward way to determine which solution would best meet their needs and budget.The authors of this report spent over a hundred hours meticulously researching the top systems, so nonprofits can make the best informed decision when purchasing fundraising software.
Get your key stakeholders on board with fundraising software
Making a major purchase decision requires collaboration and coordination with key stakeholders throughout your organization: IT staff, development, volunteer managers, executives, and most importantly, your nonprofit board. Whether you’re a smaller nonprofit needing approval of your board or a larger nonprofit looking to get the go-ahead from the members of your development team, it’s crucial to obtain the buy-in and participation of your key stakeholders when making such an important decision for the future of your organization.
Steps to Getting Buy-in from Stakeholders
Make sure everyone is in the know
Gaining alignment across multiple groups is an exercise in communication. You need to keep them informed from the start.
Give goal-based reasons why you’re looking to buy
Define why you’re looking at fundraising software by listing the goals you’re trying to accomplish and the challenges you’re working to overcome.
Show and tell
Ask the companies you’re considering to provide you with shareable material that can enable stakeholders to make informed decisions around the question of purchasing one system over another or the benefits of fundraising software as a whole.
Which route would you like to take?
The journey to reach your goals may have many roads, so it’s crucial to invest in fundraising software that can accommodate and accelerate successful outcomes. Be sure you choose a system that will support whatever success means to you. Don’t let bells, whistles, and fluffy features distract you from why you’re evaluating software in the first place. By keeping your goals in mind, you’re sure to make the right choice.
How to buy fundraising software
Find your path to growth
Print a copy of this checklist for each system you’re evaluating. As you review each software product, tally the amount of features included within the subscription package that meets your budget.
Before you get started
Consider these suggestions as part of your fundraising software evaluation process.
- Give yourself ample time to decide on a software before your current contract expires and before any upcoming events.
- Involve someone in your purchasing process who is familiar with your data and will be using it most frequently.
- Know all of the features and integrations available to you before making your decision.
- Compile a list of must-have and nice-to-have features.
- Consider a learning curve your team will need to overcome as they become familiar with your new software.
- Take advantage of available training and software learning options.
- Prepare your database for a smooth transition by considering ways to clean up duplicate data or unused codes.
- Consider your system security needs. Users can have restricted access to areas within the database.
- Know your data transfer needs, including the seamless and secure migration of your recurring gift enrollments.