When asked what the most important difference is between a successful fundraising organization and an unsuccessful one, most people would probably guess it has something to do with crafting the right message, knowing the right donors or simply having the best staff. But I would argue that there’s something much more fundamental that could make the biggest difference in the long term success of any nonprofit organization. Even if you have a great group of people working for you, wonderful prospects and a popular cause you’re promoting, you and your organization will never meet your full potential unless you have a quality fundraising database (with equally high quality data) to keep your organization strong through the inevitable turnover of staff, leadership and even donors.
The fundraising database system you and your organization uses is just as important as the tools a carpenter uses when he or she builds a house. Higher quality tools and materials (when combined with the skill to use them) will inevitably lead to a more sturdy and stable home. Let’s stick with this housing analogy and take a look at what a good fundraising software system really is:
A Fundraising Database Should Be at the Center of your Organization
Whether you’re a one man operation or a 100 person enterprise, you are building your organization to serve others and to continue doing so. People and staff members come and go, leaders make their mark and move on, but your institution’s history, accomplishments, friends and success stories should all be kept safe and never lost. That’s where your fundraising database comes in. It should store most everything about your organization what it has ever done. It provides a history of your deeds and it provides structure for your future.
How does it do all that? It should store all your past prospects, your past gifts and your past volunteers or friends. It has a history to tell, but it also should track the donors and relationships that are current and can lead you to find prospects in the future. Who is the son of that wealthy donor who helped your organization get off the ground? Does that family also have fond memories of your cause and want to help? Is the head of your volunteer board friends with other wealthy prospects? Can she make introductions or would she be willing to speak on your behalf? A fundraising database should hold this sort of information (either formally or informally) so that new development staff members can quickly learn about your organization and begin the hard work of fundraising.
A Fundraising Database Should Be Designed for Your Organization
Would you want to move a family of five into a studio apartment? Would you want to give a retired couple a large estate that they’d have to care for? Most likely not. The fundraising database should be designed around your organization and your staff members. Now, staff does change so won’t want to choose a system simply because one or two members of your organization like it, but rather because it’s a tool that everyone seems as though they can work with.
Churches have different fundraising needs from grade schools which have different fundraising needs from large private universities. There are many different types of nonprofit organizations and they all have their own special needs and requirements for good operation. Ideally you’ll want to use a database that’s not only designed for your organization but also one that has a little bit of flexibility built in for custom needs and future projects.
It’s difficult to predict the future, but ideally you’ll want a system or database that allows you to grow into it and expand as time progresses.
A Fundraising Database Should Be Easy To Maintain
If you move into a home with two acres of landscaped land then you’d better know a thing or two about gardening. The database or fundraising software your company chooses should be easy and affordable to maintain for your organization. That may mean that you simply outsource all your technical problems and challenges or it may mean that you dedicated resources to maintaining an information technology staff. You’ll want to try to have a system that helps you keep your data consistent from one year to the next and one which allows you to easily find and correct errors as needed.
The system that your fundraising organization uses is a vital tool that helps all the other parts of your organization: your staff, your constituents and the others you serve all work together and function well.