What drives change?

We hear lots of different variations of why nonprofits are changing their donor management system. They often fall into three separate camps:

  1. They are about to start a new major campaign and need something robust enough to assist them
  2. They’ve been using the same system for years but not consistently and they want a fresh start
  3. More often or not they can’t get the data out of their current systems in a way that will help them progress their fundraising efforts.

These three problems should have three different paths to solutions.

New Major Campaign – New System

Starting a new campaign can be an excellent time to start using a new system. Your staff will be excited about the impact they are about to achieve with the organization. It’s a great time to make a change on a database and a make change in the way that database is being used.

Make sure when you are choosing a database for this new effort you think about two things: what is going to help make an impact on our fundraising efforts and what is going to make our staff more efficient?

Your new database should help you segment your the different constituencies you have in your database. More engaged constituents will be prime targets for the beginning of your campaign efforts. You will want a clear understanding of who makes up that group. But don’t focus solely on past giving history, make sure you are including other signs like who’s tweeting about your organization or volunteering on a regular basis.

Your less engaged constituents should be educated on the importance of your mission and the purpose of the campaign. They are the pipeline you can steward and engage through the process to have them become donors. As you go through the process, make sure your database is setup to not only help you convert these prospects but retain long term. Make sure you personalizing your communications to them.

Can’t Trust Current System

Do you have an old system you can’t trust? That means there must be some data in there that is good but some that needs to be removed. When looking for a replacement database, make sure you understand the conversion process. This will be the most important element of whether or not you are successful in the new system. Does the conversions team take the time to understand your fundraising goals and fundraising plan? Do they analyze your data and talk through points for improvement/clean-up/removal? Are they experts in data management that will consult and guide through the process of implementing a new system? You’ll also want to ensure you have the ability to adjust and revise how the data comes across before it’s final. This process will be more important than any other aspect of the purchase–without the time to clean the data, without the ability to work with nonprofit database experts, without the ability to revise your work you have a high potential to have the same dirty data in a new system.

Also, talk to your sales person about the experience once you’re live in the new system. Is there support team not only trained in the product but also trained in fundraising best practices? Do they have the ability to help guide you in how to run the actual report you need for success?

Can’t Get The Data Out

What if you have been doing an excellent job of tracking information about your constituents. Not only have you put in gift data, but you have records of volunteer activity, event participation, and other interaction information as well. This seems like you’d be in a prime position to understand your constituents through a variety of engagement points. Unfortunately so many databases have fields where you can put data in but can’t report that data back out.

That means you can’t leverage those data points for marketing segmentation. You can’t easily understand engagement in reports. You’re losing valuable opportunities through the inability of your database.

For a search like this, make sure the reporting engine you’re looking at can export any field necessary. Do you have unlimited custom fields? Can you add in your custom fields to the report and also filter on those fields? Can you create an email campaign based on a custom field or set up a letter to be run based on activity history?

Do you fit into one of these three camps? One common thread here is that no matrix is needed to figure out what criteria you need to be successful. Make sure you know what your top needs are and focus on those. Ask pointed questions and figure out the nuances for your top three. Understand that you are embarking on this journey to solve specific pains, so make sure you do.