You and your team have worked hard, inspired donors and served your mission. Now the old donors are sticking around and new donors keep coming. You need somewhere to keep all of this information and Excel just isn’t cutting it anymore. Your organization has grown to the point that you now need a database! Congratulations! This is a rite of passage for an organization in the same way that buying your first car was a rite of passage. Both experiences can be extremely intimidating. Fortunately, buying your first database is a lot like buying your first car. Don’t believe me? Read on!
When buying a car you don’t just go with the first hit on Craigslist; you shop around. You visit various dealerships, talk to salespeople and weigh your options. Do the same with your database. A quick search of “fundraising database” will give you a plethora of aggregate lists of what’s out there. Seeing all the options may be overwhelming but don’t worry, you will be able to start narrowing them down quickly. Don’t do the salespeople’s work for them! Force them to sell to you and compete with each other. Make them earn your sale.
You wouldn’t buy a car without first reading consumer reports and asking current drivers what they think of their car. You can do the same thing for your database. There are a number of reviews out there for CRMs, from large industry websites to individual blogs. Don’t forget to leverage you networks. Ask friends at other organizations, current staff who worked with databases and any consultants who know your organization. If you want to grow your network, asking about databases can be a great way to start a conversation with someone new.
Check the Price
We all have a budget. Often for our first car, it was rather low. The same is usually true for our first database. The trick with databases is that different companies price differently. Some will charge by the month, others by number of records, others by funds raised and still others by some combination of the three. Makes sure to run your numbers and know the total cost of the solution.
Check the Features
Do you live off a long dirt road? You might need a car with four-wheel drive. Are you going to be driving a lot of people? A coup might not be the best choice. Databases are the same. If you have members, make sure the database can track memberships. Do you do ticketing, need to track volunteers, receive significant planned giving, hold events? Make sure that the software is able accommodate those functions. Make a list of “must-haves” for your database and be very careful if the salesperson starts to talk about a “work around”. If you are going to be using a feature regularly, you want the process to be built-in.
Know the Driver
It doesn’t do you any good to buy a car with a manual transmission if you don’t know how to drive it. The same is true for your database. Make sure to take an honest assessment of yourself and your staff. It can be exciting to see a software that is able to do all sorts of fancy things with your data but, if your staff can’t run that function on their own, it might as well not exist. Make sure that the functionality you will be using is user friendly enough for your staff to actually use.
Know Your Ecosystem
When you buy your first car, you want to make sure that it works within your environment. A large SUV will quickly become a problem if you need to parallel park in a crowed city multiple times a day. You want to make sure that your database integrates with the rest of your software. Will it integrate with your email client? How difficult will it be to transfer information to your general ledger? With enough work you can usually make any software talk to any other software. But, if it is going to require a complicated translation process, make sure your staff can handle it. Usually, the less complicated, the better.
Can You Trust Your Warranty?
If a used car dealership offers no warranty and takes no responsibility for the sale as soon as you drive off the lot, run. The same is true for a database. Will they help you migrate your data? Are they going to train you and your team to use the product? When you call them will there be someone on the other end? Are they continuing to innovate and improve? If they aren’t going to support your success, they aren’t the database for you.
You’ve done your research. You’ve spoken to sales people. You’ve paired down your list. You have weighed the advantages and disadvantages of each. You’ve gotten advice from current users. Now it is time to make a call. You built an organization large enough to warrant a dedicated fundraising database; no one knows it better than you. You have good judgement and good instincts. You’ll make the right call; trust yourself
About the author:
Joseph Conley, bCRE-P, is an educational consultant with Blackbaud. Prior to that, he worked in the Development office of the Archdiocese of Boston. When he is not nose deep in a database, Joe can be found 50 feet underwater scuba-diving or (very reluctantly) running around the streets of Boston.