Purchasing fundraising software - or not - involves a lot of decision making. Our guide aims to help you through the decision-making process.
Should I buy fundraising software at all?
This is the first question to ask yourself. To answer it, you need to weigh the benefits against the costs. The bad news is that fundraising software, despite being designed for non-profit organizations, is not cheap. The high cost is because it is tailor-made for fundraising purposes, and can fulfil a wide variety of functions. However, you need to think about whether the large initial cost of purchasing the software is outweighed by the potential benefits - for the campaign you are about to launch and for possible future campaigns.
What does fundraising software do?
Fundraising software can fulfil a variety of functions, from helping you write fund raising letters to providing spreadsheet projections to help you see how suggested strategies might work out. At the more basic level, almost all fundraising software enables you to keep records of donors. However, the way in which this donor information can be used varies greatly from software to software, and for many people this is the key factor in their decision to purchase a certain piece of software. For example, some fundraising organizations may want to group their contributors by age group, in order to send well-targeted mailings. Other fundraisers may simply want to be able to scroll through lists of contributors quickly. If all you want is to keep straightforward records of your donors' names and contact details, you may be better off using a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel, especially if you already have it on your machine. Excel is not specifically designed for fundraisers, but will allow you to store information such as names and addresses, and you may already be familiar with it.
Can fundraising software help me with mailings?
Yes. All of the most popular brands of software help with mailings. FundRaiser is one of the best-known families of fundraising software, and all three of the FundRaiser programs contain a built-in word processor, allowing you to send personalized letters using your donor records. Raiser's Edge, from Blackbaud, has a similar mail merge function, as does DonorPerfect, from SofterWare, with Insta-Merge. However, be aware that mail merges can also be done with the Microsoft Office suite, using Word and Excel.
Can it help me to use demographic data for targeted fundraising campaigns?
The FundRaiser family of programs allow you to sort donors into groups based on factors such as giving patterns and postcodes. Raiser's Edge allows you to store and access extensive demographic data. GiftMaker Pro allows you to build custom lists. DonorPerfect allows you to apply selection criteria before sending targeted group e-mails.
Can I use it to identify sources of funding?
Free Government Money is a company selling a CD-ROM with a grant information system including a complete listing of Government grants by category and agency. The CD-ROMs cost around $50. FedMoney provide a free online resource with information about government grants in areas such as education and health. Click here to go to their site. However, neither Free Government Money nor FedMoney are designed for charities. Blackbaud Analytics is a prospect research solution designed for non-profits that allows you to identify which individuals on your database are the best sources of contributions. It uses financial, biographical and demographic data to do this.
How much does it cost?
Costs, of course, vary from program to program.
At more than $30,000, Raiser's Edge is the most expensive program on the market. You may decide that this represents good value for money, as this is considered by most users to be the most comprehensive fundraising software program around. However, many smaller non-profit organizations find that Raiser's Edge has more features than they actually need. Also, training people to use Raiser's Edge will require further outlay.
DonorPerfect costs about a tenth of what Raiser's Edge does, but even this may be too much for smaller organizations.
The cost of Campagne's Giftmaker Pro and Eventmaker Pro varies depending on the number of records you have and the number of concurrent users needed.
eTapestry is free for users with fewer than 500 records. Pricing is per month and is based on how many records you have and how many users there are. You can choose whether to pay quarterly or annually.
Prices for the FundRaiser family of software vary depending on whether you are using FundRaiser Basic, FundRaiser Junior or FundRaiser Professional. The advantage here is what the company calls a "growth path": you can begin with the cheaper, simpler software and go on to the more expensive options (and extra optional modules) as your needs and budget grow. There is also an interest-free payment plan.
Can I access fundraising software when I'm away from the office?
Some software can be accessed online. eTapestry was designed to run on the Internet, for example, and DonorPerfect has a browser-based version, DonorPerfect Online. DonorPerfect Online can be used with a PDA.
Is fundraising software easy to use?
Ease of use varies from package to package, and how quickly you pick something up depends on how much experience you have of similar software. However, as Ken Burnett says in Relationship Fundraising , "Nonprofit systems are among the most complex in the world, strange as that may seem." Your cost calculations should include the cost of training yourself and any others who will be using the software.