Although many nonprofit organizations understand the value of fundraising software and want to make the switch, many are stumped by how to approach the buying process.
And who can blame them?
There’s a lot to take into account when considering a new platform.
Not only do you have to figure out what types of platforms and features are out there in the first place, but you also need to understand how software would work for your organization specifically.
The buying process is much simpler if you have the right considerations in mind.
Here are 20 questions that nonprofits need answered before they buy fundraising software:
- What is fundraising software, exactly?
- Why are we shopping?
- How much do we have to spend?
- Who will be using the software?
- What major efforts do we need help with?
- What type of base software should we go with?
- What platforms do we need to integrate?
- Do we need any additional features?
- Is this solution scalable?
- Does this software allow us to manage our data easily?
- Can it hold our data securely?
- How are we going to transfer our data over in the first place?
- What does the list price cover?
- How much does the software actually cost?
- What does installation look like?
- How about training?
- How about maintenance?
- What do other users think of this software?
- Is there a demo I can watch?
- What’s the best way to pitch my software to the board?
With the answers to these questions, you’ll have all the information you need to make an informed purchase.
In order to buy the right fundraising software, first you have to determine what exactly fundraising software is.
You’re probably thinking — Why would I be buying fundraising software if I didn’t know what it was in the first place?
Just bear with us for a minute, because the answer isn’t as obvious as it might seem.
Fundraising software is really an umbrella term for a number of systems and features meant to help nonprofits better engage their individual donors to improve their overall fundraising results.
In other words, there is no one-size-fits all fundraising software.
As such, it’s advisable to do some preliminary research.
Your research will help you figure out what types of platforms are out there and what’s standard, so you’ll go into the buying process with a better idea of what you need and what to expect.
Need a good place to start? Read Salsa’s Ultimate Guide to Fundraising Software.
Takeaway: Knowledge is power. When you do your research, you’ll go into the buying process knowing what’s out there, so you can make the most informed decision.
Obviously, you’re considering purchasing a new fundraising software platform because some aspect of your current operations could be improved.
That’s why there are so many different software solutions out there. Each problem must be addressed with a unique set of features and capabilities.
That being the case, it’s important to think about why your organization is shopping.
Here are just a few of the many reasons why nonprofits seek out new software:
- To centralize and streamline their efforts
- For better insights into their donors
- For more efficient operations
- To gain more features
- To find a more affordable product
- To improve the organization of their data
- To buy a product with additional support
- To find a product that’s more scalable
Make sure you go into the buying process having determined your organization’s reasons for buying software, so your vendor can better direct you to the right solutions.
Takeaway: You won’t know which product to buy if you don’t know why you’re shopping in the first place. Take the time to think about your reasons.
Any major purchase calls for a budget, and software is no exception.
As a significant investment for your organization, your staff and board will only agree to the purchase if it’s fiscally realistic for your nonprofit.
That’s why it’s important to set yourself a clear budget before you start shopping.
And, of course, you want the peace of mind knowing you’re only spending what you can afford.
Think back to your preliminary research and the average price range of some of the software platforms you looked at. Knowing the market will give you a good idea of how much your organization should be putting towards this purchase.
Setting a budget also eliminates the options that are out of your price range, focusing your search to make it less overwhelming.
Need a little help deciding how much the purchase is worth? Check out this DonorSearch article.
Takeaway: Setting a budget ensures you’ll be making a responsible purchase.
Many people at your organization will be using the new software to assist them with their jobs.
Your software solution should be able to accommodate all of the staff members who will use it and address their particular needs.
Before you look at specific platforms, think about which staff members will be using the software.
Some users could be:
- Major gift officers
- Planned giving officers
- Membership coordinators
- Event coordinators
- Development associates
- Database administrators
- Grant writers
- Directors of advocacy
Now, think about the various efforts each of your staff would be using the software for.
For example, your major gift officer would want a software with robust development tools. Your event coordinator, on the other hand, would need a software with event planning modules to help them organize attendees and volunteers.
It can be helpful to get your stakeholders together for a discussion. You’ll get a more comprehensive perspective and make sure you’re covering all of your bases.
Takeaway: Your staff wants to benefit from software, too. Choose a solution that will make their jobs a little easier.
As you talk to your staff, a clearer picture of which general operations your software needs to address should emerge.
You can take your conversation a step further by questioning staff about which specific efforts they think could be improved.
In particular, ask them if there are any tedious maintenance tasks that are taking up a lot of staff hours. These are the areas that your software should cater to and where it will be the biggest help.
This is also a good time to think about which major fundraising efforts your organization hopes to accomplish in the foreseeable future.
For example, say you need email marketing features to help you execute your capital campaign (for some advice, check out the DonorSearch guide).
The software you eventually purchase should either have these capabilities built-in or support their integration.
Takeaway: The point of buying new software is to help you execute successful fundraising efforts. Make sure you’re purchasing a platform that can adequately do so.
Now that you’ve thoroughly thought about your organization and its needs, you can finally get down to evaluating specific fundraising software platforms.
The shopping process starts with looking at base platforms.
As we discussed earlier, the term fundraising software is a catchall for a variety of platforms. Some base platforms include:
Donor management or nonprofit CRM software
With donor management or nonprofit CRM software, you can create constituent profiles to gain a better understanding of your supporters’ giving habits, preferred donation methods, and so much more. Data that you acquire from other platforms can be transferred to your donor management software so that you can get the full picture on your donors’ giving behaviors.
Additionally, membership management tracking may be a feature that’s included in your nonprofit CRM. If your organization has a membership program, you’ll be able to track your members and when it’s time for supporters to renew their membership.
When you have all your donor data in one place, you can easily track your donors and continue to develop relationships with them.
Online donation tools
Online donation tools can range from mobile giving methods to fully branded donation forms. Donors want more convenient ways to donate, and online donation tools help make the giving process quick and easy. Using online donation tools will provide donors with more options to give, which will lead to more donations for your organization.
Not every donation tool is the same. In fact, each tool may focus on a specific giving method. Since there are so many different donation tools, you should pick the one that best fits your fundraising strategies and your organization’s needs.
Email marketing and social publishing tools
Email marketing and social publishing are essential to your fundraising effort. Not only can you send out information about your organization, but you can also send personalized thank-you emails, a crucial piece of the stewardship process.
With email automation software, your organization can create an email campaign for donors at each stage in the fundraising process. For instance, if you’re looking to include emails or social media in your planned giving strategy, having a tool to automatically send emails or publish posts will help you stay organized and save your team time.
Advocacy software helps you perform targeted actions and rally your supporters to help your cause. Advocacy software can be combined with your other efforts to help you raise more awareness for your cause.
Advocacy software has tools to help you educate people, organize supporters and keep them up-to-date on policies, and launch online petitions and rally the support of your advocates.
Event planning software
Planning an event takes a lot of organization and preparation. Event planning software can help you plan and execute an event. The software usually comes with additional features like registration forms to help you raise money and track your donors’ progress.
With event software, you can track the number of guests that attended your event and use that information to continue the stewardship process.
To determine which base software you should consider, think about which major operation of your organization oversees the most efforts your software should address.
For example, if your organization is really trying to up its advocacy efforts and needs tools to put supporters in touch with legislators, advocacy software is probably the way to go.
Although the base software might not contain all the tools your organization requires, it will be a good place to start building from.
Takeaway: Your base software will be your organization’s technological foundation, so it should address the majority of your needs.
If it does turn out that you need some extra features that aren’t built into your base, oftentimes you can address these gaps with integrations.
Integrations are third-party platforms that can be incorporated into your software to expand its capabilities.
Some common integrations that nonprofits use include:
- Payment processing
- Email applications
- Social media profiles
- Wealth screening and prospect research
Make sure that the third-party platform you need to integrate with your new base software is compatible.
For example, if you were already using a platform to screen and cultivate major gift donors (http://www.donorsearch.net/major-donor-fundraising-strategies/), you would want to double check that the current platform is compatible with your new fundraising software.
If it’s not, you might want to reconsider your base solution.
Takeaway: If you need integrations to account for features that are missing in your base software, the two platforms should be compatible.
For features that can’t be included or integrated, there’s also the possibility of supplementing your base software with expansions.
Similar to integrations, expansions also expand your capabilities, but by incorporating an additional platform from the same vendor.
Because they were built by the same vendor, expansions are generally easier to incorporate into your base software than third-party platforms would be.
Here are some examples of popular software expansions:
- Digital marketing automation
- Grant management
- Volunteer management
- Membership management
- Direct mail
Expansions are usually a little more specialized than the base software they support.
For example, an online donation software would provide you with the tools to build donation forms and process online payments.
However, it wouldn’t have the social media, event planning capabilities, and other tools needed to help you navigate the specific challenges of a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.
Takeaway: Expansions can provide you with more features to expand your capabilities and make your base platform more complete.
It can be difficult to predict what changes are on the horizon for your nonprofit.
However, early on in the buying process, you should think about how your organization might expand or evolve in the near future.
The ideal software solution will be scalable enough to accommodate your growth.
Make sure you find a solution that either has the features you’ll need to help you as you take on new efforts or develop the old.
If it doesn’t, ask the vendor of the platform you’re considering how straightforward and expensive it might be to integrate those capabilities down the line.
For example — You don’t support mobile fundraising yet but want to make the switch in the next year or so? Find a software that’s mobile responsive or supports mobile giving platform integrations. (Click here for more information).
Takeaway: Buying a less scalable solution increases the likelihood you’re going to have to invest in a new software sooner, so think ahead.
That’s why one of the primary functions of fundraising software is to optimize the way nonprofits manage their data.
It does so by automating many of the routine maintenance tasks that nonprofit staff members expend a lot of time and energy doing by hand.
Especially if one of your primary reasons for buying new fundraising software is that you want to improve your organization’s efficiency, look for a solution that will help you do that.
That’s where automation comes in.
With software’s automated features, it’s much easier for nonprofits to collect their data and keep it clean.
Some typical automation features might include:
- Deduplication and record merging.
- Tracking donor information when supporters give online.
- Inputting of attendee event information.
- Interaction history tracking.
- Generating reports.
Takeaway: With the right software platform, you can free up staff time to channel their efforts into more valuable pursuits, like additional fundraising campaigns that will help you raise more money.
Especially if you’re buying a nonprofit CRM, your platform is more than likely going to be holding your donor’s sensitive information.
As loyal supporters of your cause who are trusting you with their information, it’s your duty to protect your supporters’ identities.
The only way to do this is to buy a secure software solution.
Software platforms from legitimate, established vendors should all have the necessary safety precautions in place.
However, you should still ask your vendor about what features the platform includes to protect confidential constituent information.
Your platform should allow you to control permissions, so only the people who absolutely need access to certain information can view it.
For example, say you were hosting a fundraising event. One of the many benefits of online donation processing is that it allows you to pre-authorize attendees’ credit cards so you can speed up the sign-up process.
With a secure software, you could give only the staff members or volunteers working this event access to attendee payment information, reducing the chances that this information might fall into the wrong hands.
On that note, need some event fundraising ideas? Check out this article for some inspiration!
Takeaway: A secure software ensures that your donors’ sensitive information is safe and that your organization has more peace of mind.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s go back to how to get your data into your new system in the first place.
Data transfer can be a challenging process that’s bound to take some effort, but take comfort in the fact that some platforms are a lot friendlier when it comes to this process than others.
Do yourself a favor and find a platform that makes data transfer as easy as possible.
When talking to your vendor, ask what you’ll have to do to get your data ready for transfer and about how long this process might take.
A long and involved data transfer process is rarely worth it for a couple of reasons:
- You and your staff will be taking time away from other efforts.
- The longer your platform takes to get ready, the more fundraising and donor engagement opportunities you’ll miss out on.
If it turns out you have to spend hours on end manually inserting your data into the new system, the platform you’re evaluating is probably not the right fit.
Takeaway: Data transfer is always a difficult process. Make it easier on yourself by finding a platform that makes this process as straightforward as possible.
You’ve determined the fundraising software you want is compatible with your organization’s needs and operations.
Now it’s time to consider price.
The base cost of fundraising software is usually reflected in the list price, which is the price vendors display on their website pricing pages.
This price will make up the bulk of your investment, so it will give you a ballpark idea of what your total purchase is going to cost.
But because software has many optional and additional components, vendors usually break up the costs to provide nonprofits with more flexible pricing options.
The bottom line? The list price is usually not all-encompassing.
That being the case, you should be absolutely clear on which features the list price covers.
Although it’s usually the features included in the base software, you should double check with your vendor just to be sure.
Takeaway: The list price will give you a good idea of how much your software costs, but it doesn’t cover everything. Make sure you know exactly what you’re getting.
To determine the true cost of your software, you also have to account for the features and services excluded from the list price.
Software’s hidden costs vary from platform to platform, but here’s a general idea of what you should be looking out for:
- How much present or future expansions are, and if it will cost you anything to integrate them.
- The costs of staff training and IT support.
- How much, if anything, it will cost you to update your software as technology becomes more advanced.
- The fees associated with payment processing.
You should ask your vendor about each of these costs explicitly and if there are any additional areas you might be missing.
You never want hidden costs to surprise you down the line.
If something comes up, it could be fiscally draining for your organization. Even worse, it could limit your software’s functionality or render the platform obsolete altogether, costing you your investment.
Takeaway: Ask about all the hidden costs now, or your organization could find itself in a financial bind in the future.
If the price is right, you can start thinking about how you’re going to set up your software and start incorporating it into your operations.
Like the term fundraising software, installation is an umbrella term that actually refers to a multi-step setup process.
To get your software up and running, you’ll have to:
- Install the platform onto your computers.
- Integrate any third-party platforms or expansions.
- Transfer your existing data.
- Clean up your data.
- Test your data.
- Customize various aspects of your platform.
Some organizations opt to complete this process independently, but most rely on the help of a consultant to walk them through and make sure their software is functioning properly.
Ask your vendor if the consultant’s service will cost you anything and how long the process is expected to take.
Again, the longer the software is down, the more opportunities your organization will be missing out on. It’s advisable to use a consultant from the start, so that installation will go as smoothly as possible.
Takeaway: Installation is the first step to getting your software up and running. Consider the services of a consultant to make sure it’s done right the first time.
Fundraising software is a powerful tool for nonprofits, but only if it’s utilized in the right way.
Before you can really start taking advantage of your software to see better fundraising results, you and your staff first have to go through training to learn how to use it.
The type and quality of training varies from vendor to vendor, but there are a couple of common options:
- Your staff can watch free, pre-recorded videos online.
- A consultant will come in or run webinars to train your staff on the software with lessons customized to your organization’s unique concerns.
The benefits of the first approach would be that it’s free and can be done remotely, anytime anywhere. However, this type of training is not customized to your organization, and your staff has no opportunity to ask questions.
While the second approach usually costs something, it’s generally worth the investment.
Because training is customized, you and your staff will be able to gain a better understanding of how to use the software for your organization specifically.
It all depends on your budget and how technically savvy your staff is; those factors will determine whether or not spending the additional money on training is worth it.
Takeaway: It’s not the software but how you use it that’s important. Provide your staff with the right level of training so they can effectively use the software to help achieve your organization’s goals.
Chances are, if you’re using your software for many years to come, at some point you’re going to run into technical difficulties.
When and if that happens, you want the peace of mind knowing you have support from your vendor and can address these problems.
Before you make the purchase, ask your vendor the following questions about maintenance:
- Do you offer maintenance support to your clients?
- When is it available?
- What is the best way to get in touch with a consultant?
- Generally, how long is the turnaround time for addressing technical issues?
- Does it cost anything?
You should make absolutely sure that maintenance isn’t just available, but readily available.
It’s all well and good if support is on hand 24/7, but if it can’t address these problems efficiently and your software is down for days on end, it’s as good as nonexistent.
Takeaway: You always want your software to be functioning at top speed. Your IT support should be convenient, available, and efficient.
Nobody knows how your software works better than the people who are already using it.
Don’t be hesitant to get their advice!
By consulting current user reviews, you’ll get a better idea of how the software is improving other nonprofits’ operations and any difficulties they’ve faced when using it.
You can consult:
- Case studies
- Independent studies
- Online forums
- Online review sites
The beauty of the internet is that now customer reviews are easier to access than ever, so you should have a goldmine of information at your fingertips.
Naturally, opinions vary, so take what you read with a grain of salt.
However, if you see many organizations pointing out the same strengths or weaknesses with the platform, it’s a safe bet that your organization will have a similar experience.
Takeaway: It never hurts to have a second opinion. Current user reviews will give a better idea of your platform’s pros and cons.
User reviews will give you a lens into how the software works on a day-to-day basis, but there’s nothing better than witnessing it firsthand.
With most vendors, you can preview the software by watching a demo.
At the earlier stages of the buying process, you can look for pre-recorded demos featured on the vendor’s website that will give you a basic idea of the platform’s features and user interface.
Once you’re considering a product more seriously, ask your vendor to give you a personalized demo.
Customized demos are usually conducted over a conference call with screen share, so you can see the product in action. This is your chance to check out the modules that will be most important for your organization and ask any lingering questions.
As you’re watching, also think about how user-friendly the platform is.
You want it to be intuitive enough that your staff can become proficient on it as quickly as possible, so you’ll see results sooner.
Takeaway: Demos allow you to check out the software’s user interface and ensure that it’s friendly enough for you and your staff to use on a daily basis.
The hardest part is over. You found your platform, and it fits into your organization’s operations perfectly.
However, there’s one major step left. You still have to get the buy-in from your board.
Although pitching any major investment to your board might be intimidating, the key is to remember that they’re on your side.
Like you, they want to see better results for your organization.
When making your pitch, all you can do is give your board the information and resources they need to help them make the right decision for your organization.
There’s no way to ensure that they’re going to approve your purchase, but if you’ve done your research on the product and can back up its advantages, it’s likely they will.
And, of course, there are some tricks to increase the likelihood that your pitch is successful.
Takeaway: Your board has your organization’s interests at heart. Sway them by showing them how software can improve your operations and bring better results.
Choosing the right fundraising software is all about asking the right questions.
The process starts at home. First, you have to look internally to understand your organization’s needs and goals.
Once you have those answers, only then can you approach your vendor with all of the necessary questions to lead you to the right solutions.
With those questions in mind, you’re sure to find the software that will bring your organization’s fundraising results to the next level!