The following guest article comes from nonprofit digital strategist Maureen Wallbeoff. Through helping nonprofits for over a decade, Maureen has developed a proven process that maps your nonprofit’s strategic and operational goals to the right platforms and business processes. Visit her website to learn more.
Do you like your current fundraising software or are you looking for an exit? Embracing new nonprofit fundraising software can be a game-changer for your organization. We all have dreams of improved donor management, streamlined donation processes, and innovative tools to boost engagement at our fingertips. We’ve seen other organizations launch brilliant engagement campaigns with gorgeous donor forms (and we’ve felt a little flicker of jealousy).
Ultimately, there comes a time to decide that it’s time to act and make a change. To give your supporters a great experience too, first you must evaluate and select new nonprofit fundraising software. In this article, I’ll explain the smart way to make that happen.
Many nonprofit leaders undertaking a search for new fundraising software feel overwhelmed after a few weeks of looking around. This is usually caused by common software selection problems like these:
- Limited digital engagement strategy
- Unclear requirements
- Not sure what questions to ask
- Gaps in data integration needs
We’ve all heard stories of buyer’s remorse from our colleagues and peers. Maybe we’ve even been personally involved in software selection projects gone sideways. Following poor nonprofit software evaluation and selection processes have a big impact beyond just being annoying and time-consuming. Moving forward with so many unknowns can lead to picking the wrong system — putting you and your donors right back where you were before you moved (or worse).
It’s Easy To Do It Right
I’ll let you in on a little secret — while finding your amazing new fundraising software can be tricky, you don’t have to become a technology expert to do it right. All it takes is the right process and the right timing, keeping your donor’s expectations in mind as you go. I’ve helped hundreds of organizations successfully navigate software evaluation and selection projects, and it doesn’t have to be painful.
Using just three easy steps, you can dial down the risk and ramp up your ability to meet your strategic engagement technology needs. Let’s walk through each of these steps and help you make your own solid plan.
Step One: Current State Assessment & Future State Planning (4 weeks)
Taking a step back and evaluating your current nonprofit technology before you see new product demos isn’t just a smart move — it’s essential. Think of it like remodeling a room; you wouldn’t want to buy a new sofa without checking to see if it’ll fit in your space.
In the same way, before diving into the sea of shiny new fundraising solutions, it’s crucial to understand your current set up. Here’s how to do it:
- Inventory your systems: Understand how your new fundraising software needs to fit into the big picture of the other tools you’re using, including your CRM or database.
- List internal and external pain points: From missing functionality to manual workarounds, document whatever isn’t working for your supporters and your team.
- Look three-to-five years out: Think strategically about your future needs. Talk with your team and get ideas about ways new technology can make it easier to reach your organization’s engagement goals. Document your long-term priorities and objectives and decide how you’ll use the new fundraising software to make those things happen.
Step Two: Define Your Requirements (3 weeks)
Ever been on a road trip without a defined destination? It can be fun to just take off for a few days and go wherever your spirit leads you. Selecting new fundraising software is a different kind of trip — it takes planning and decision-making to nail down the details before you leave home. Your comprehensive requirements should include more than just software functionality.
You’ll use your requirements as a guide for the rest of your evaluation and selection process. Consider these critical requirements:
- Functionality: Start by confirming the things you need your new software to do. Again, keep your donor’s expectations in mind. What functionality will give your supporters a compelling, modern, secure experience? Do your supporters want expanded payment methods like Apple Pay or Google Wallet? Are features like marketing automation, text messaging, and event management essential to growing your donor engagement programs? Now’s the time to identify what’s on your ‘must have’ list.
- Budget: You won’t have pricing yet, so this can be a step in your evaluation process where you may need to fake it a little. Find out what you’re spending now and set a reasonable budget for an upgrade. If it’s been a while since you looked at software pricing, add another 30-50% to what you’re currently spending to get a decent ballpark. Remember to include funding to move into your new fundraising software in the budget.
- Timing: When do you want to move into a new system? Let me ask this another way: How much time do you need? Depending on the complexity of your other requirements, it may take anywhere from four to eight months to move (or more). Checking the contract dates on your current fundraising software to make sure you’re giving yourself enough time to look around, pick a product, and move in. Your donors and team will appreciate anything you can do to avoid a last-minute scramble.
- Data Integration: Your new fundraising software won’t exist in a vacuum. It needs to play nicely (share data) with the other tech you’re using. Grab the system inventory you made in step one and imagine something new replacing your current fundraising software. Where does a new fundraising tool need to “plug in” to your CRM and other systems? What data needs to move between platforms?
- Training & Support: There’s a lot of variation when it comes to learning how to use new technology tools. Some of us prefer live, hands-on training. Others want to watch a short video and follow along. Take a minute to think about what training model will work best for your team. And while you’re at it, decide what kind of technical support you’ll need, as well as response time and support hours. Getting clarity on your expectations in these areas and finding a software company who aligns with your needs is as important as the functionality of the platform itself.
Step Three: Evaluate and Select New Fundraising Software (6 to 8 weeks)
We’re finally entering the sales cycle! The first two steps helped prepare you and your team to start looking at replacement systems. Now you’re going to identify potential replacement products and begin working with salespeople. You can find products by several methods — asking your colleagues for recommendations, internet searches, checking out online donation forms, or reading software reviews. Check out software company websites for basic information about the system, features, and case studies.
You should include a minimum of three products in your evaluation process, with a max of four or five products if possible. Once you’ve got your short list of software for consideration, the fun can begin:
- Assemble your team: Using a collaborative approach to evaluate new technology can greatly increase your likelihood of picking the right one. Cross-functional is best. Try to include end users and one member of your organization’s leadership. Having four to ten people on your team works well.
- Share your requirements with the salespeople: Bundle up your requirements, your pain points, and your long-term technology priorities and send them off to the software salespeople. The more they know about what you need, the better prepared they’ll be to ask the right questions and be a helpful resource to you through the sales cycle.
- Hold customized demos: Make sure the salesperson knows what you want to see and hold an initial look at the products. 90 minutes should do it. Gather feedback from your team about what they liked and didn’t like. This is another place to keep your donor’s needs in mind – and evaluate the new software’s ability to make it faster and easier to manage their work.
- Get pricing: After you’ve seen each system in action, ask for detailed pricing. Meet with the salesperson to review the costs and get answers to budget and timeline questions. At this point you probably have a favorite at the top of your list.
- Close knowledge gaps: If there’s any functionality that needs a closer look, now’s the time. Data integration details and the migration process should be well understood by everyone. Ask for three references and ask for a short meeting to get a sense of their experience and any lessons learned. If you hear good things, it’s time to sign a contract and get ready to move in!
You Can Do It!
It’s true — there are lots of things to do, learn, and keep in mind when you’re switching fundraising systems. Choosing the right fundraising software isn’t just a technical decision or another project to work on — it’s an investment in the future of your organization and mission. By embracing advancements in technology and using a smart selection process, you can make powerful improvements to your donor stewardship programs that will provide stability and growth to your organization for years to come.