When Free Fundraising Software Is Anything But [UPDATED]

Find out if it's worth it to invest in free fundraising software for your nonprofit.

If it’s free, it has to be good, right?

It’s common for nonprofits to scale back expenses when budgets get tight. Too often, though, a casualty of that is fundraising software.

Maybe you yourself have heard a board member say: “Why are we paying for that when we could just use Excel?” or “I heard Salesforce is free for nonprofits; why don’t we just use that?”

Free software products can be tempting. On one hand, they save your team the time of researching products and determining what’s a worthy investment, as well as save you the money of making that investment.

However, these free solutions can limit your ability to fundraise effectively, costing you even more money than what an investment in true fundraising software would have been.

Let’s take a few minutes to explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of opting for a no-cost fundraising software platform. In this article, we’ll review some of the most asked about subjects related to free fundraising software.

Get started with your research by using this navigation tool to jump to any of the following sections:

    1. Why is Free Fundraising Software Good?
    2. Why is Free Fundraising Software Bad?
    3. Our Recommendation: Bloomerang

Ready to learn more about the facts behind free fundraising solutions? Let’s dive into this complicated subject.

Why is Free Fundraising Software Good?

There are many reasons why free fundraising software is so tempting to nonprofits large and small.

First, it’s important to save money where you can, especially when you’re trying to save your donors’ dollars. After all, you want as much revenue as possible to go right back to funding your mission.

Second, most growing nonprofit organizations have little room in their budget for big software expenses, and it can be tough to make the case to your board of directors that it’s a worthy purchase.

Advantages of Free Fundraising Software

Ultimately, there are so many reasons why opting for a free fundraising solution could be tempting to your nonprofit:

  • You might be curious about the impact that paid donor database solutions can have at your nonprofit. Is it really worth it to make the big switch?
  • You may be looking to compare systems and will evaluate the performance of the free solution against software you already use or are considering using.
  • You may have in-house expertise that can transform utilize software like Excel or Access to its full potential.

However, when it comes to free fundraising software, you often get what you pay for. In fact, relying too heavily on a free fundraising solution can spell disaster for your organization down the line.

Why is Free Fundraising Software Bad?

There are a lot of possibilities that come to mind when you consider the downsides of relying on free fundraising software to serve your organization.

Your first instinct might be that free solutions tend to not be as built out for the specific needs of nonprofits. You’re not wrong to think this.

Free fundraising tools aren’t problematic simply because they tend to be lightweight solutions. Excel and Salesforce can be quite powerful! The central challenge with this software is that they aren’t designed with nonprofits in mind.

You see, even a free software program that is powerful enough to make a difference still must be properly customized and implemented. And unless you’re an Excel wizard who can write complicated formulas that calculate across multiple sheets and tabs, or an experienced Salesforce admin, you’re going to have a lot of trouble, or end up paying someone.

Challenges with Free Fundraising Software

We’ve converted many customers from Salesforce to Bloomerang. In almost every single case, the story was the same: they were drawn to the fact that it was free, but found out later that they had to pay upwards of $15,000 for a consultant to set it up in a way that made it usable.

This means that they ended up paying more than they would have if they had just bought a dedicated donor database. They also had to endure a lengthy implementation period; it was months before the system was set up.

For Salesforce, we’ve seen this pattern play out again and again. Ultimately, it causes much more harm than good.

In the case of Excel, it can be tempting to cut the expense from your budget and downgrade to spreadsheets.

There are a couple dangers associated with this:

  • lack of security: what happens if that computer is stolen or damaged?
  • lack of features: you’ll need other software to send emails, collect online donations, etc.
  • lack of accessibility: how will multiple employees access the data if it’s on one computer?
  • lack of support: who will you call if there’s a problem?
  • no skin in the game: if you aren’t paying for something, will you really use it?

To that last point, consider that when nonprofits pay for their fundraising software, they put more thought into the platform and will pay more attention when using it to ensure that the investment is paying dividends.

The Bad: Summary

For nonprofits, it’s almost always better to partner with a paid solution built specifically for nonprofits.

You want to avoid free fundraising software because:

  • There’s usually no support team you can contact for help, and even if there is, they won’t be fundraising experts
  • With no risk, there’s no reward to your fundraising strategy.
  • Free solutions are often limited in function, meaning you’ll find them less useful and have less of a reason to keep using that platform.
  • Free solutions often need to be set up in order to be workable.

The bottom line? Nonprofits that are serious about getting their tech strategy right will want to avoid free fundraising software.

Our Recommendation: Bloomerang

Your nonprofit doesn’t need to settle for a limited solution just because it’s free. In fact, you can invest in robust fundraising software without overstretching your budget; you just need to find the right affordable solution.

With Bloomerang, you can access the full functionality of our platform starting just $19/monthWhen it comes to your operating budget, that’s just a drop in the bucket (even for growing organizations).

Although our baseline plan is easy to afford, you’ll still get essential features like:

  • Cloud access
  • Unlimited users
  • Unlimited access to Bloomerang Academy
  • Unlimited online forms, including online giving and event registration
  • Unlimited custom fields
  • Free email and chat support

You’ll also get exclusive features not found in any other software, like:

  • Constituent Engagement Level™
  • Constituent Generosity Score™
  • Ahern Audit
  • Donor Engagement Surveys
  • Sustainability Scorecard
  • Donor Retention Wheel

Bloomerang isn’t free, but it’s well worth the investment. Not only will you have access to all of the nonprofit fundraising essentials listed above, but you’ll also have the option to upgrade as your constituent count grows down the line.

This means that as your nonprofit and its needs grow, you’ll be able to stay in the same system you know and love. When you get started with Bloomerang, your team will have the peace of mind that you’re implementing fundraising software that’s built to last, not a flimsy, low-stakes system.

If your nonprofit is looking for a scaled-back free solution, Bloomerang also offers Bloomerang Lite, a free donor database software for nonprofit startups. This is a great fit for brand new organizations looking to try out the Bloomerang platform before they jump into the main product. Even though it’s free, it’s still a product made specifically for nonprofits!

Want to learn more about what Bloomerang’s user-friendly, robust, and affordable nonprofit donor database has to offer? Download our video demo to find out how your nonprofit can leverage Bloomerang’s tools to better manage and retain your donors.

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Before you commit to investing in a free fundraising software solution, your team needs to brush up on the basics. Now that you’ve reviewed the good, the bad, and the ugly of no-cost fundraising tools, it’s time to decide: is free fundraising software really worth it?

There’s still a lot you can learn about affordable nonprofit software. Check out these additional resources to help your team get familiar with how to make the most of the free and low-cost solutions available to you:

  • Bloomerang | Donor Management Software. Bloomerang’s affordable nonprofit software is perfect for organizations looking for a robust donor database that won’t break your budget. Learn more about what Bloomerang can offer.
  • What Does Your Donor Database Measure? If you’re unsure of exactly what your donor database can reveal about your operations, review this essential guide to get the most out of your nonprofit’s investment.
  • Double the Donation’s Top 12 Nonprofit CRMs. Ready to commit to a donor database? Take a look at Double the Donation’s ranking of the top nonprofit CRMs. Bloomerang is ranked as their favorite affordable CRM!

The Buyer's Guide to Fundraising Software

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. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman.
Jay Love
By | 2018-09-04T09:19:06+00:00 July 15th, 2013|Software|

3 Comments

  1. Lori L. Jacobwith July 18, 2013 at 9:04 am - Reply

    I totally agree with you, Jay!

    So many nonprofit staff & boards I’ve come across get excited about the concept of free or very low cost software. As a bit of a data “geek” myself I work hard to let them know you get what you put in. No money = way less commitment to use and really tap into the power of a database.

    I cringed at the story you shared about the eager staff person who was deleted the oldest records to keep the donor count at 500. Oh dear!

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Phil Johanass November 28, 2016 at 7:26 pm - Reply

    Hi Jay, great post and actually my organization went through a similar struggle when we were looking to fundraise online. A bit of background: I volunteer for a local gymnastics organization here in Brandon, Manitoba, CA. We were looking for a way to enhance our fundraising efforts by utilizing our social media followers in combination with our offline fundraising efforts at the community centre and mall. We tried many softwares, some where monthly fee based, but most of them platforms were a per donation fee. The prices ranged from 7% per donation all the way down to 1%. I personally liked your point of if there is no investment, you are less likely to invest yourself into the management and operation of your fundraising software. However, some of the more expensive alternatives were honestly just that… way too expensive. The monthly fee platforms required us to put up between $100 – $250 dollars a month without knowing if our efforts were going to be successful (we are really new to online fundraising). Others charged up to 10% to process a single donation when you factored in the merchant fees. All in all, the expensive versions just did not work for us, financially. We found a few great platforms that did work and they were CanadaHelps and Donorhut, we ended up picking Donorhut (I added a link to my post fields if you want to look at it).

    Anyway, the whole point of this is, I feel that for small organizations like ours other considerations are in play such as the financial. It’s really sad to say, but our shoe string budget prevents us from paying a large upfront cost or a monthly fee for our fundraising software. We are much better off working with a platform that will allow us to match our expenses with our cash flows by charging a per donation fee. Regarding your point about limited contacts etc, actually quite a few of the per donation fee based platforms are fully feature rich and do not limit contacts or donor information, at least Donorhut doesn’t.

    Anyway, I want to thank you for your post and I appreciate you reading my story and experience with “free” or rather as close to free as possible fundraising software. We are currently not fully fixed on Donorhut and we are open to some alternatives. Hopefully you would be willing to provide some suggestions for us newbie online fundraisers of where we can look for an alternative.

    Thanks again
    Phil

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