Planning

1. What are our organization’s needs?

When considering software, you need think about your organization and determine what exactly it is that you need the software for in the first place.

To make sure you find a software that’s the right fit all around, you should look at many aspects of your organization, including:

  • Your size.
  • Your cause.
  • Your major efforts and operations.
  • Current problems or difficulties you’re facing.
  • How modern your current fundraising strategies are.
  • How you might expand or change in the future.

For this step, it can be helpful to get a group of staff from multiple departments together to brainstorm. This way, you’ll get multiple perspectives to give you a broader understanding of your organization’s major concerns.

If you have your nonprofit’s needs at the forefront of your mind, you’ll be better equipped to determine if the software you’re considering is the right fit or not.

For example, if your organization wants to improve its major gift prospect development, the software you’re evaluating should have the tools to help you do that.

If you have your nonprofit’s needs at the forefront of your mind, you’ll be better equipped to determine if the software you’re considering is the right fit or not.

2. What features do we need (or not need)?

Now that you’ve clarified your organization’s needs, it’s time to figure out which features are required to address them.

Fundraising software is a broad term that can encompass many different types of platforms and features, including:

  • Donation form building and online donation processing
  • Donor and constituent management databases
  • Event planning
  • Email marketing and social publishing
  • Donor development
  • Grant management
  • Advocacy
  • And more

That being the case, you want to make sure you’re buying software that includes all of the necessary features.

At the same time, it’s also important to decide what you can live without. You don’t want to waste money on features you don’t need, especially at the expense of furthering your cause.

So, if your organization has tons of awesome event fundraising ideas (for more on those, click here) but isn’t so big on advocacy, forgo the advocacy features in favor of a software with excellent event planning capabilities.

Fundraising software is a broad term that can encompass many different types of platforms and features. That being the case, you want to make sure you’re buying software that includes all of the necessary features.

3. Do we need to integrate any of the platforms we already use?

Even after taking expansions into account, your software still might not have all of the day-to-day features your organization needs to function.

For your software to offer you full functionality you might also need to integrate programs you’re currently using to assist your operations.

There are three common scenarios when you might need integrations:

  1. Because software is specialized for nonprofits, some of the more general features (for example, payment processing or email applications) might need to be supplemented by third-party platforms.
  2. The software company you’re buying from doesn’t offer tools to help with one of your major operations, so you need to interface another specialized fundraising software platform.
  3. It’s simpler and more logical to transfer data by integrating an existing platform than it would be to transfer that data to a new platform altogether.

For example, say your organization has a successful matching gift program, and your software doesn’t offer the tools to help you match donors. If you’re already using a matching gift service, you would need to interface your current platform with the new one.

If you find that you do require an integration, ask your vendor how compatible your current program is with the new one.

If it’s difficult or impossible to integrate, it might be time to reconsider.

If you find that you do require an integration, ask your vendor how compatible your current program is with the new one. If it’s difficult or impossible to integrate, it might be time to reconsider.

4. What do other nonprofits think about this software?

You don’t have to go at the buying process alone.

Organizations that have used your platform before can be a huge help when it comes to deciding whether or not to buy.

Because they’ve had experience with the product, they can attest firsthand to how it functions.

Get online and see if you can find a second opinion by consulting reviews other organizations have written about the software you’re evaluating.

Keep in mind that people often post when they’ve had an exceptionally bad or exceptionally good experience, so take these reviews with a grain of salt.

But if you see certain patterns emerging regarding the platform’s strengths or weaknesses, it’s probably a safe bet that your nonprofit will encounter a similar experience.

A second opinion could save you from making an unsound investment, so it’s at least worth looking around to see if you can find one!

A second opinion could save you from making an unsound investment, so it’s at least worth looking around to see if you can find one!

5. How many people does it accommodate?

Often, the base price of fundraising software is partially determined by how many people can use it and how many constituent profiles it can hold.

In other words, the more people your software needs to accommodate, the more expensive it’s likely to be.

When considering list price, make sure to ask about how many staff users will have access to it and, if you’re buying donor management software, how many supporter profiles the platform can sustain.

You want to ensure that all the staff members who need to use it have access to it and that it can hold all of your donor data with room to spare.

If you anticipate that your organization is going to see major growth in the near future, you want to buy a platform that can expand with you without breaking the bank.

If you anticipate that your organization is going to see major growth in the near future, you want to buy a platform that can expand with you without breaking the bank.

Budget

6. What’s Our Budget?

It’s important to go into any major purchase with a budget in mind, and software is no exception.

Before you dive deeper into evaluating specific platforms, you should first decide how much your organization is willing to spend.

Going into the buying process with a clear budget will naturally limit your options, which makes the selection process a little easier.

It also, of course, ensures that you won’t be spending more than you can actually afford.

With a set budget, everyone involved in your organization will feel more confident about making the purchase.

Going into the buying process with a clear budget will naturally limit your options, which makes the selection process a little easier. It also, of course, ensures that you won’t be spending more than you can actually afford.

7. What features are included in the base price?

There can be many costs that factor into the total price of software, but let’s start with the most basic.

The base price is the vendor’s list price on the platform you want to buy.

It encompasses the core functions of the platform but usually excludes any expansions or optional add-ons.

The list price will be what the majority of your investment will go toward, so it can give you a general idea of how much the software will cost. However, it’s important to ask exactly what it includes to make sure you’re getting all of the features you need.

If the base price doesn’t include one or more of your organization’s necessary features, you might need to reconsider depending on how much the excluded features cost to add on.

The list price will be what the majority of your investment will go toward, so it can give you a general idea of how much the software will cost. However, it’s important to ask exactly what it includes to make sure you’re getting all of the features you need.

8. What are the additional costs?

The costs of fundraising software don’t stop at just the list price.

When buying fundraising software, you might also run into the possibility of hidden costs such as:

  • Staff training.
  • Maintenance fees.
  • Online donation processing fees.
  • Updates as technology evolves.
  • The future integrations or expansions your organization might make.

When calculating your total costs, think ahead and factor in all possible future costs alongside of the more immediate ones.

In some cases, you’ll find that your budget might cover your needs now, but you might not have enough to continue maintaining or updating your software down the line.

If you can’t afford everything your fundraising software needs to keep it functioning properly, in five years it could be as good as useless, putting your operations in jeopardy.

Avoid this nightmare by adding up all the costs from the beginning!

When calculating your total costs, think ahead and factor in all possible future costs alongside of the more immediate ones.

9. Do we need expansions?

At its most basic level, fundraising software usually includes online donation capabilities and donor database management functions.

If your organization specializes in certain efforts, you might need to integrate expansions.

Although base price features vary from platform to platform, some major types of software expansions include:

Keep in mind, if the base price of the software you want includes everything your nonprofit needs minus a few important features, it might still be more economical to go with integrations than it would be to buy a more comprehensive core software.

With your needs, budget, and the software’s list price in mind, the expansions you need, if any, should be fairly evident.

Keep in mind, if the base price of the software you want includes everything your nonprofit needs minus a few important features, it might still be more economical to go with integrations than it would be to buy a more comprehensive core software.

10. How do I maintain my software over time?

The buying process doesn’t just end the minute your software is set up and your staff knows how to use it.

In order for your software to keep running at its highest capacity, you need to think about how you’re going to maintain it over time.

First, ask if the software has any built-in features to help keep it clean.

This is another instance where automation can make a big difference. Automated features like deduplication will help you maintain a lean and accurate database, so your records will never become so messy that they’re out of hand.

Second, make sure that your maintenance support includes installing updates, or if it doesn’t, that these updates are fairly easy to install yourself. And don’t forget to ask about price!

By keeping your software up-to-date, you’ll get much more life out of it.

By keeping your software up-to-date, you’ll get much more life out of it.

Data

11. How difficult is it to transfer data?

Because you’re buying new software in the hopes that it will help you better your operations, chances are you’re not just going to integrate all of your existing platforms.

The data that isn’t going to be integrated will have to be transferred.

Considering your data is the key to helping you get to know your donors better and optimize your fundraising, it’s critical that it translate to your new platform uncorrupted.

Transferring data is usually a complicated process, but some platforms make it easier than others.

Determine that it’s possible to transfer your data to the new system in its proper format. Then, think about how you would have to prepare your data to get it ready for this process.

If it turns out that transferring your data requires a lot of time and labor on your part, consider whether or not the software has other benefits that would make this effort worth it.

Considering your data is the key to helping you get to know your donors better and optimize your fundraising, it’s critical that it translate to your new platform uncorrupted.

12. Is it easy to manage data?

You’re buying fundraising software for the purpose of better managing your data. Make sure you’re purchasing a software that will actually help you do that.

Now that you’ve transferred existing data into your new system, consider how you’re going to manage this data over time.

As you’re purchasing, ask your vendor the following questions about data management. Is it easy to:

  • Add new records?
  • Update existing ones?
  • Keep your database clean?
  • Generate reports?
  • Transfer your data if you ever switch to a new platform?

For the best results, find a software with many automated features to streamline the data management process.

For example, most nonprofits frequently need to generate donation receipts. Most software can automate these for you, so you never have to remember to send them to supporters after they donate.

With software that has a high level of automation, you’ll have less to worry about and more time on your hands for the tasks that really do need to be done by hand.

For the best results, find a software with many automated features to streamline the data management process.

13. Does the software fit well into our current operations?

It’s all well and good if your fundraising software addresses your organization’s needs, falls into your price range, and supports the necessary expansions and integrations.

The hope is that your new software will update your organization’s current operations and better them in some way. But at the same time, if it doesn’t complement into your organization’s current practices, it’s probably not the one.

Think of it this way: buying a software is like hiring a new staff member. As a key player in your efforts, you want it to complement your organization’s unique culture.

Consider how your nonprofit presently handles its major operations, especially your data management.

Then, answer the following two questions:

  1. Will the software accommodate all of the data we need?
  2. Does the way the software collects and manages data mirror our current practices to some extent, or will we have to alter them significantly?

Although the goal is that software will simplify the data management process, it will only become more complicated if you have to drastically change the way your organization runs to use it.

Learning how to use a new platform is already a big adjustment. Make it easier on yourself by finding one that shapes to fit you, not shapes you to fit it.

Although the goal is that software will simplify the data management process, it will only become more complicated if you have to drastically change the way your organization runs to use it.

14. How easy is this software to customize?

On that note, even fundraising software that’s already organizationally complementary can be further tailored to fit your organization.

Some platforms, however, are better at this than others.

For the most individualized fundraising experience, you want software with lots of customization options, especially when it comes to the capabilities that influence your major operations most.

Customization could apply to many different features, including:

  • Supporter profiles
  • Donation and sign-up forms
  • Email marketing templates
  • Reporting and tracking tools
  • And many, many more

With customizable features, you can mold your software to better fit your organization’s unique needs.

For example, if you want to jump start your major donor development, ask how much control this platform will give you over tracking these relationships and collecting the relevant data.

Your software will feel like it was made especially for you, and you’ll make your major gift officer’s job a whole lot easier!

With customizable features, you can mold your software to better fit your organization’s unique needs.

15. Is it secure?

Chances are, your organization will be using its fundraising software to manage your supporters’ sensitive information.

Your donors are trusting you with their confidential information, so you would never want to put it in a vulnerable spot.

It’s absolutely critical to confirm you’re buying a secure platform that can protect this information properly.

Here, you might also want to ask about how much control the software gives you over permissions. The most flexible platforms will allow you to offer some users access to certain information while prohibiting others.

For example, if you’re hosting an event where you need to preauthorize donors’ credit card information, you could set your permissions so only the staff members working the event have access to that information.

Secure your peace of mind by asking about security before the big buy.

Your donors are trusting you with their confidential information, so you would never want to put it in a vulnerable spot.

Training & Support

16. What kind of support comes with the software?

Even the technology whizzes of the nonprofit world will most likely need a little support when it comes to their fundraising software.

All platforms should have some kind of IT support, but the level and quality of this support varies from company to company.

If your software ever runs into any problems, you want to know that help is just a quick email or phone call away. And, of course, that your problem will be addressed in an efficient manner.

Avoid trouble down the line by making the following inquiries before you purchase:

  • Do you offer IT support?
  • Do I need additional support from a consultant?
  • How do I get in contact with support if there’s a problem?
  • What’s the typical response time?

With the right level of support, your software will be functioning at top speed for years to come.

With the right level of support, your software will be functioning at top speed for years to come.

17. How difficult is the software to set up?

Once you’ve determined that the software you want has all of the necessary features, it’s time to think about how to get it up and running.

There are many steps to consider when setting up your new software, including:

  • Installation
  • Customization
  • Integrations
  • Data cleaning
  • Data testing

Chances are, especially if your organization requires a high level of customization or integration, you’ll need a consultant to help you set your software up.

If that’s the case, don’t forget to ask how long the setup process will take and if the consultant’s services will cost anything.

If you decide to set up solo, make sure that you’ll have access to help if you end up running into any difficulties.

Chances are, especially if your organization requires a high level of customization or integration, you’ll need a consultant to help you set your software up.

18. How user-friendly is your software?

Perhaps more important than the software’s setup is how easy it is to use on a day-to-day basis.

Staff of varying skill levels will be using your software regularly to assist with your organization’s operations.

A software that’s too technical and inaccessible will only complicate your operations and might bar some staff members from using it altogether.

It’s just as important to select a platform that’s user-friendly as it is one that’s feature rich.

Remember: it’s not just the software but what you do with it that matters. For some tips, check out Double the Donation’s fundraising best practices.

A software that’s too technical and inaccessible will only complicate your operations and might bar some staff members from using it altogether.

19. What type of training is required?

On that note, to get the most out of your software, you not only need to know how to use it, but how to use it properly.

To do so, you and your staff will likely need to go through some type of training before you’ll be proficient on the new platform.

The level of instruction and support can vary drastically from platform to platform, so you never quite know what you’re going to get unless you ask.

Here are a few general questions for your vendor when it comes to training:

  • How long is the training process?
  • What are the frequency of lessons?
  • How is training administered (online, on site, etc.)?
  • What proficiency level does your training cater to?
  • What are the costs?

Make sure you and your staff will receive enough training and support to start using your software without any major interruptions to your operations.

The better you understand your software, the more functional it’s going to be, so find one that offers the level of support you need.

The better you understand your software, the more functional it’s going to be, so find one that offers the level of support you need.

20. Can I see a demo?

Often, the best way to determine if you’ve chosen the right software is to see it in action.

Most vendors offer demos, so you can get an idea of their product before you buy it.

Start by checking out the vendor’s website to see if they feature any free demo videos. Some vendors will require you to submit some basic information first, then send you a demo or free trial over email.

For those further along in the buying process, many software vendors will also offer the option of over-the-phone or in-person demos if you request one.

These demos are more personalized and can give you a better idea of how the software will work for your organization specifically, so you can be absolutely sure you’re getting the right fit.

Some vendors will require you to submit some basic information first, then send you a demo or free trial over email.

Additional Fundraising Software Resources

Types of Fundraising Software

Types of fundraising software

There are a ton of different types of fundraising software. You might only need one particular tool, or you may need a whole software suite.

Whatever the case, you stand to benefit from this article on the different types of fundraising software!

Guide to Fundraising

Guide to fundraising

Of course, if you’re looking for fundraising software, you might also need help with your fundraising strategies and campaigns.

If this is the case for your nonprofit, don’t worry! Just read our guide to nonprofit fundraising, and you’ll be set.

Fundraising Best Practices

Fundraising best practices

Double the Donation’s fundraising best practices have help nonprofits raise more money than ever. Our tips can help your organization too!

Take a look at our top fundraising strategies for raising more money and see the results for yourself.

© Copyright 2019 - Double the Donation