May 21, 2009 | Categories Nonprofit News, Nonprofit Technology

Data Hostage Crisis!

Wondering How to Export Data from eTapestry
(or many other popular fundraising software)?

Nothing frustrates me more than when companies take advantage of their client’s relationship to make it difficult for them to switch to another company. After all, needs change over time, and what may be best today may not be best tomorrow.

Example: Wireless Industry. For years, once you had a cellular telephone number, you could never change carriers/vendors unless you also changed your number. Of course, no one wanted to do that, because they didn’t want to become disconnected from their social network. Luckily, the FCC enabled Wireless Local Number Portability, and now it’s easy to switch carriers and keep your local number, though the carriers fought this tooth and nail!

What does this have to do with non profits and their data?

Many fundraising software companies go out of their way, on purpose, to make it extraordinarily difficult to switch to another software.

Our industry is not immune- some vendors in the Health Care industry do the same thing. Sevocity reports on it and so does mpmsoft.

The easiest way to get your data out of ANY system, is to ask for a comma-delimited file, for each table in the system, with the field names in the first row. This allows anyone to open the files in something as basic as Excel or Microsoft Access, and see the data that they own. For example, in DonorPerfect fundraising software, you can always download your data in this format at any time- it’s easy to do and does not cost anything extra.

However, in systems from some companies- it’s impossible. In fact, the vendor actually goes out of their way to create a way where the download process is either complicated, impossible, or- worse- so complex that it takes someone with a graduate degree from both MIT and Harvard to decipher the data.

For example, in eTapestry, the only way to get gift, contacts, and other ‘journal’ information is to download one HUGE ‘flat’ file that contains all the records from these separate tables. The problem lies that the field names they provide do not match the actual data- they actual re-use field names and export different data in the fields based on the type of record!

For example, the field name maybe called “Gift Date” but for some records in the file it’s actually the ‘Contact Date’. This obtuse process makes it extremely difficult for any normal tech person to understand the data, and significantly increases any costs associated with moving from their system or even understanding what you own.

Worse, many times you can’t even export the data at ALL because the system (being web-based) simply times out. To be candid, though, eTapestry is not alone in this area. Some vendors, such as PledgeMaker, charge at least $500 to export this simple format. Others, including Kintera, Convio, and SalesForce all time out if you export ‘too much data’. Basically, you can try to export your records, but the system can’t do it.

Their common solution? Try to separate the export process, starting with Last Names from A-C, then Names from D-G, etc. Or, export less fields, because more fields takes too long.

Is this a valid solution??!?!?


Non-profits should be mad that they are taken advantage this way. If the tools provided by the vendor cannot download their data, in a reasonable time, then choose a different vendor. Giftworks, for example, stores their client’s data in an easily accessible Microsoft Access database. Others that provide a simple export option include DonorQuest, DonorPro, Donor2, Exceed, MatchMaker, Sage 50, and LifeLine.

What’s the lesson here? Change happens. Make sure that your non-profit is covered so that if (when) they do switch, you account for all of the hidden charges and fees in your evaluation. Look for secret ‘gotchas!’ like additional fees for exporting data or minimum contract lengths (in some contract, it’s 5 years!) Never commit for more than 2.

After all, it’s YOUR data. You should always be free to get it back since you owned it in the first place.

Written by Amanda Foran
  1. Great article! I couldn't agree more. We had all kinds of problems getting our data out before we converted- it was terrible!

    Susan Patrick
    Richmond Food Bank
  2. Note: one online software vendor does NOT activate an export function for users at all. This third new client this year, within a sub-sector of nonprofits, who had no choice but to pay for the file to be exported into Excel. Don't appreciate being sent to the penalty box.
  3. Anonymous,

    Though I can see why you want to remain anonymous, it may be helpful to other organizations to know who you are.

    Regardless, that's great insight. Our philosphy is simple- we make it easy to leave us, because that's the best way to earn your business and your trust.

  4. Anonymous,

    Though I can see why you want to remain anonymous, it may be helpful to other organizations to know who you are.

    Regardless, that's great insight. Our philosphy is simple- we make it easy to leave us, because that's the best way to earn your business and your trust.

  5. I realize this is a very old blog post, but the inclusion of Salesforce in the list of products that "time out if you try to export 'too much data'" is inaccurate, and was at the time this post was published. Salesforce provides a weekly data export option that is a ZIPped file of csvs of every table, with key fields. It can optionally include all attached files. Salesforce's API allows access using any number of free tools to export data at will. It is possible to run reports that time out, but unlikely. The issue of data lock-in is important, but including Salesforce in a list of companies that perpetrate it is inaccurate.

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