Consider these 6 important factors before buying fundraising software.

One of our employees tells a story about the lessons he learned buying fundraising software while working at a nonprofit organization. One of his board members recommended a software solution, so they unquestioningly bought it.

They figured, why shouldn’t the nonprofit team trust one of their own to know what was best for them? After all, as a part of the board, the recommender was intimately acquainted with the needs of the nonprofit.

But what actually happened? The system was never used. It became clear very quickly that the system would not meet the needs of the organization. Luckily, in this situation, the nonprofit was not locked into a contract with the software provider, so they did not need to keep the solution.

But the lesson learned from this story is: No matter how much you trust the person making a recommendation, still do your research. Before you buy, ask the vendor a lot of questions and make sure you have a good fit for your organization’s unique needs.

Don’t learn this lesson the hard way. Before jumping into purchasing nonprofit software, consider the following factors:

  1. Goals for the software.
  2. Your software budget.
  3. Built-in features.
  4. Integrations and customization capabilities.
  5. Training and implementation.
  6. The vendor’s priorities and processes.

Do your research and ask the hard questions about how to buy fundraising software. The last thing you want is to spend your hard-earned funds on a solution that is ineffective for your needs. Let’s dive into these important considerations!

Why are you buying fundraising software?

Every so often, when our customers are preparing to buy fundraising software, they send us a list of requirements in the form of a questionnaire or matrix. Our job is to fill out their form as thoroughly as possible and send it back, showing what features on the checklist Bloomerang will fulfill.

While we highly recommend making goal lists, don’t just send them in the form of a checklist to your software provider. This creates a problem when the list includes a generalized item. Take, for example, the word “intuitive.” Yes, of course you want your system to be intuitive, but the definition of such a word is completely subjective. And what salesperson will say that their product is not intuitive?

To determine what you’re looking for while buying fundraising software, we encourage you to:

First, make a list of goals your organization would like to achieve through your fundraising solution. It’s easy to get distracted by the bells and whistles of software from various providers. This list is designed to keep your priorities straight.

Next, check out the reviews that others submit about the providers you are considering. If you see any glaring contradictions with your list of goals, delete the company from your short list. Use these reviews to narrow your search down to 2-3 companies.

Then, review your list of goals. Be sure the items on the list are tangible. Keep in mind that some features may be solved through integrations. For example, while Bloomerang doesn’t have peer-to-peer functionality, but we integrate with an industry leader who does.

Finally, talk things through with the sales representative at each organization on your short list. Discussing each feature gives you a full explanation rather than the simple “yes” or “no” that you would get from a checklist. Talking things through gives you a more comprehensive view of the product than simply sending a questionnaire.

By talking through your goals, you’ll get a more comprehensive view of the software vendor and better understand how their software caters to your needs. Instead of just requiring their software be “intuitive,” you’ll be able to explain that maybe your organization isn’t very tech-savvy, so simplified actions with lots of visuals will help your organization.

What is your fundraising software budget?

Take a good hard look at your software budget before choosing to buy a fundraising software solution. There’s nothing worse than shelling out money (or getting stuck in a year-long contract) for fundraising tools that do little to nothing to help your organization.

If you’re considering free fundraising software solutions, be sure you know the facts before jumping into the tempting money-saver.

While they may sound great at first, there’s usually a reason these solutions cost nothing and are not worth it to invest time and energy in. The time to take advantage of free fundraising software is when you want to try out a new solution before upgrading to the next tier. If you stay at the free tier too long, you run the risk of security threats and limited accessibility.

One budgetary technique we recommend to first-time buyers is to shop around to see what the starting budget is for a few different systems to give you a general idea about the cost.

Don’t forget that the listed price of fundraising software isn’t the final price you’ll pay. You should be on the lookout for down-the-line costs for your fundraising software such as:

  • Training fees. Training fees are considered a startup cost so that your organization can learn how to best use the software solution.
  • Payment processing fees. Payment processing fees are used in the collection of online donations in order to process credit or debit card payments.

Don’t be immediately turned off by these fees. While they may be inconvenient, sometimes (after factoring in the profits) they may be worth it. For example, although there are usually some payment processing fees for online donations, they are rarely over a few percentage points. You can still raise quite a bit of money despite these fees.

When weighing all of your software options based on financial capabilities, make sure to ask your provider specifically about any hidden costs and scalable options. Scalable options help you choose a fundraising system that has the features you need without you paying extra for the features you don’t. You may choose to scale up after a few years if the software helps you grow!

Money plays a big part in your decision to buy new fundraising software, however, it’s not the end-all-be-all. You need to consider the quality of the solution and how well it will fit your needs in addition to how it fits into your budget. 

What features does the fundraising software offer?

You’ve already created your list of necessary goals your organization needs to fulfill with a fundraising software solution (we did that in section 1). Now it’s time to turn those goals into some tangible features.

One of the glaring issues with this plan is deciding how to come up with a “tangible” checklist. To give you an idea of what we mean, we’ve compiled an example list for important features to look for in your donor database. This example organization requires the following features:

  • A customizable dashboard that shows donor metrics that your organization is looking for.
  • Email and direct mail functionality to automate the outreach process.
  • Robust donor profiles that provides you an in-depth understanding of each supporter.
  • Website integration to track your donors’ browsing activity on your organization’s site.

When you buy fundraising software, like a donor database, be sure you have all the necessary features.

When you look for features, be sure they will achieve one of the goals that you’ve spelled out for your organization.

Of course, your own list will be customized for your nonprofit’s needs. Have on-hand the reasons why you need to fulfill each goal so that you can open up the conversation with your sales representative instead of relying on a straight “yes” or “no” answer.

In addition to fitting the software features into your current goals for your nonprofit, don’t forget to think about the future. Your nonprofit should also consider its potential growth and anticipate how the software will fit into your longer-term goals.  

What integrations and customization capabilities will you have?

Let’s revisit your checklists of features and goals once more. We’ve discussed them quite a bit, but hey, it’s important to measure how software fits into your organization.

Your checklist is full of items that your organization needs to fulfill, but keep in mind that even if the software itself doesn’t offer particular features, some software solutions offer integrations with organizations that do offer these services.

Because it’s the software we’re experts in, let’s take Bloomerang as an example. At Bloomerang, we spent time building one of the best backdoor integration networks you will ever see between software providers, making these integrations the perfect example.

Bloomerang is a comprehensive CRM software solution with comprehensive donor profiles, reporting, communication options, and more. However, integrations create so many new options for our customers. For instance, integrations with:

  • DonorSearch populates a “generosity score” in donor profiles to assist in prospect research for fundraising campaigns.
  • Aplos uses fundraising and campaign data in your CRM to help you with your fund accounting without lifting a finger.
  • Qgiv helps you create online donation page, text-to-give, and peer-to-peer fundraising options. With this integration, fundraising data flows directly from fundraising pages into your CRM.
  • Firespring enables you to create a professional website for your nonprofit with direct data flow to your CRM.

Integrations between software solutions allow nonprofits of any shape or size to streamline their data from one system to another for more seamless fundraising, planning, and operational efforts.

Sometimes fundraising software customization through integration is actually a better solution than simply buying a fundraising software solution that seems to have all the answers.

When you choose generalized software that seems to have everything included, it’s hard to tell what their specialization is. And specialized options offer specialized services, ensuring they will be effective and proactive to help your organization

What does the training and implementation process look like?

As a child, did you ever go to the store and pick out a really cool toy that you were just so excited to play with when you got home; then find out that there was a mile-long instruction manual to put the toy together before you could start playing? You probably called for help from a parent or guardian to put the toy together so you could start playing as soon as possible.

Sometimes, new fundraising software can feel a little bit like that. You should feel excited to start playing with your new solution, but we also understand that sometimes you can’t put it together all by yourself (and you shouldn’t have to!).

When you buy fundraising software, the process doesn’t end after your nonprofit signs a contract. Instead, your nonprofit should feel encouraged to build a relationship with your provider and establish a plan to work together and get the program up and running.

Without the proper training and implementation of a new fundraising software solution, it’s rendered completely useless. Know how involved your nonprofit provider will be up-front before you decide to buy. Try the following strategies to make sure your provider will be there for you:

  • Ask the provider directly about training and implementation processes.
  • Ask the salesperson about additional costs for these services.
  • Ask other clients about their level of content with the setup and training from the provider.

Be sure you get a clear answer about the implementation process before you buy fundraising software. Without this clear answer, you may find later that implementation and training are not available or are too costly. In this case, you may end up outsourcing to a technology consultant to learn about the software solution (an incredibly frustrating process when unexpected). 

While hiring an outside consultant isn’t necessarily inherently bad, it’s always best to know that you will need to do so upfront so that you can budget accordingly. So we’ll reiterate: Always ask before you buy!

Does your fundraising software vendor share your priorities?

Don’t just buy fundraising software that looks good on paper. You also need to make sure that your vendor is a good fit for your nonprofit.

As a subquestion to this very important question, be sure to ask: What is your software a solution to? If the people designing and building the product understand the key problems in that industry, then they’ll focus on solving those real-world problems.

If you ask Bloomerang, we’ll tell you that we prioritize solutions that help our customers improve their donor retention. That’s our focus. We’re far from the only people who know that increasing donor retention is a vital part of nonprofit sustainability, but we are the only ones who have built a software around it.

Buy fundraising software with a focus, like Bloomerang focuses on donor retention.

If your software provider doesn’t have a specific issue they are trying to solve, you may find that their priorities shift frequently as a company, becoming inapplicable to the real world. Shiny bells and whistles never upset anyone, but keep in mind that features should solve your key objectives instead of just being fun to play with.

After you’ve decided that your prospective vendor and your organization have the same overarching goal, you can move into some other important priorities that you should both have in common.

Some of the other priorities that you should look for in your vendors include:

  • Current and prospective customer requests. Vendors with emphasis on this priority will likely have a place for customers to make suggestions for software improvements. Accepting suggestions is a great quality until your vendor adjusts their entire software for each and every comment made. You should ask your potential vendor, “How often do you build features for one customer?” The answer should be “never” unless you have a six-figure software budget. Adjusting the software for each and every customer suggestion shows a lack of vision from the software provider. 
  • Infrastructure maintenance and improvements. Vendors with this priority will be aware of the necessity to regularly update software as technology advances for better cybersecurity and de-bugging developments. You should ask vendors “Do you have a Changelog, and is it publicly accessible?” Then look to see the changes they have made to their software and make sure they are updating this log regularly.

When you choose a software vendor, be sure they will solve a high-profile, real-world, problem for your organization. They should take into consideration the needs of your organization and provide a solution.

Don’t get distracted by the exciting features of shiny, new software, but be sure your excitement is a result of how those features will be helpful to you.

Understanding how to buy fundraising software will help your nonprofit make the best ultimate decision for your needs. Conduct research to comb through your organization’s goals as well as the priorities of prospective vendors. Armed with this research, you’ll find a software solution to fit your organization’s specific needs.

For more information about buying fundraising software and other solutions, check out the resources below:

Check out the buyer's guide to fundraising software by Bloomerang.

Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth. Prior to starting eTapestry, Jay served 14 years as President and CEO of Master Software Corporation. MSC provided a widely used family of database products for the non-profit sector called Fund-Master. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman. Jay is also the author of Stay Together: How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty.