Toyota Sienna

About this time last year, my wife and I broke down and bought a minivan.

Yes, a minivan.

I told my wife when we had kids that we would never get a minivan. Yet, here I am; cruising around town with my family in our luxurious, eye-popping, and dare I say – sexy – minivan.

It took quite some convincing and a series of “warning signs” to realize we had outgrown our little Honda Civic, and needed something that better fit out needs. It was a very tough decision. The Civic was paid off, reliable and got great gas mileage. Did I mention it was paid off? But, we both came to realize it wasn’t going to work any longer for our growing family.

I think nonprofits often go through similar internal conflicts and show some warning signs before deciding to buy new fundraising software. Having worked with hundreds of nonprofits over the years to implement new databases and CRMs, the warning signs are always pretty similar for groups that realize it might be time for a change. Here are some of the most common:

1. Not everyone can access the software.

If you are using a system that is on one computer, not accessible outside of the office or via mobile devices, or not easy for multiple people to make updates, it might be time to consider a change. Software that is not accessible to all needed users can cause problems when fundraisers can’t access the critical donor information easily, or if it resides in a silo that others can’t see. Excel and Access are prime suspects in this area.

2. We can’t get the reports we need.

The software you are using should easily be able to generate the most important reports you need. Reports on donor retention, current campaigns, LYBUNT, SYBUNT, and appeal activities should always been easily run in a few seconds for nonprofit. This information is so critical to a nonprofit’s fundraising health, and should always be a few mouse clicks away. If these reports are taking longer than a few minutes to get, you might want to consider a new system. The database should also allow you to build your own custom reports without a lot of headaches or advanced computer science degrees.

3. Your database is on an island all by its lonesome self.

This is really referring to integration. If you find your database does not integrate or “talk to” your website or email program, and it requires a lot of importing or manual data entry from other systems, it might be time for a change. Many systems now easily can integrate with your website for online giving, event registration, and peer-to-peer fundraising pages. If your database does not and you are spending massive amount of time manually entering data from other programs, it might be time for a change. Many systems also have built-in emailing tools so you don’t even have to mess with importing or exporting email lists to separate programs.

4. No one trusts the data.

I talked to a group the other day that said they’ve just completely abandoned their database because there was too much “bad” data and duplicates. People had been entering information differently and no one trusted the data in the system any longer. If this is your nonprofit, or you feel like “gosh, our database would be fine if we could just clean this stuff up, but that will take too much time”, then it might be time for a change. Many of the fundraising software companies have entire departments devoted to transferring and “fixing” data issues. Bloomerang’s conversion department is amazing at this, and just about every new customer we bring on board will have some data issues that need addressed. Don’t let this warning sign keep you from making a change.

5. “We are having a lot of issues, but what we use now is FREE (or very cheap)!”

I can certainly appreciate this. Free is great for any nonprofit, but when it comes to the health and well-being of your donor data, please don’t make “It’s free” be a reason not to change.  Many of the free options (like Access and Excel) do have their place, but can really be costing you in other ways.  Trust me, I love Excel as much as the next guy, but if you are using it for a donor database, you are missing out on some very key functionality that will be critical to your fundraising success.

6. “I’m sure our database is fine, but no one knows how to use it.”

This is probably the biggest warning sign of them all. If you are using a system now that seems too complicated or cumbersome for ALL users, it might be time to consider alternatives. You want to make sure the system is easy enough that more than just the database administrator or data entry person can use it. If your team dreads using the program, more than likely they are not putting all the important information into it they should, and might even be keeping that dreaded “shadow spreadsheet” that will come lurking in. Your fundraisers should know exactly how to get into the program, look up donors, put in notes, enter interaction information, and run reports. If they can’t because it is too complicated, then it might be time to switch.

I know change can be difficult, but it can often be a wonderful thing. I never thought I would say, “I love my minivan” a year ago, but it has been a wonderful decision for my family. I always tell my friends who doubt the greatness of minivans, “Only Lamborghini’s and minivans have doors that can be opened automatically with remote control!”

The Buyer's Guide to Fundraising Software

Matt McNulty
Matt McNulty was an Account Executive at Bloomerang and is a proud minivan owner.
Matt McNulty
Matt McNulty

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