As a professional fundraiser, you know how important it is to have a reliable and easy to manage database. A good database makes it easy to manage, organize, and coordinate all of the intricacies of fundraisers, something you really need, especially if you are dealing with multiple fundraisers at the same time. Having the option to customize different parts of the database, such as reports and forms, makes the process considerably easier, but once things get going you won’t have time to create new ones or update existing ones. Even if you create the perfect experience for one fundraiser, you will be limited in how much of that process you can recycle because every fundraiser is different. You will have at least a few different vendors, a completely different set of donors (hopefully a lot of new ones), and a different beneficiary for each fundraiser. You need a database that is robust enough to handle a lot of data for multiple projects and is secure enough that your donors’ information is not compromised.
To better understand what functionality you will need in your database, spend some time getting familiar with the terms and database basics. While databases are complex, if properly implemented your users will never see the depths of complexity. The better a database is, the easier it is for users to enter information, and since fundraisers generally operate with volunteers, you
want to make the process straightforward so that any level of computer user can easily use it.
Buying a Database
If you have the time and energy you could make your own database, but with everything you have to keep track of, it is strongly recommended that you purchase the software you need. The software manufacturers have already figured out everything you will need to track (and there is a lot to track), and you really do not want to find out when you are well into a fundraiser that you left out something basic in your database. If you work with established software it will have wizards and templates already created, making your job so much easier.
When you start looking at software, you need to know what your primary foci will be.
- How will the campaigns be managed?
- Do you specialize in one or two types of fundraisers, or will you do any type requested by clients?
- Are there particular aspects of the process that you want to focus on?
- How will you coordinate donors and beneficiaries?
- What kinds of communication will you provide?
- How often will you backup your system and will you allow clients to have access to their information?
- What type of security measures do you want for the database (and does the database being sold meet minimum state and federal requirements for managing financial institution information)?
There are many other questions you will need to ask yourself, but these will get you started thinking. Sit down and go through the fundraising process, determine how you would like to manage and track information, and examine areas where you would like to improve the process. These are all things you need to consider when you buy your database. Make sure you have questions ready for customer service and shop around before making your purchase.
One of the easiest ways to handle a lot of different clients and fundraisers is by breaking them up into campaigns. Of course you will need to have some variation between the different types of campaigns so you can create a similar flow and process that you can manage. As long as you track how you treat each type of campaign, you can streamline all of them at the same time. When you find a way to improve one campaign type, you can evaluate it against the others. This not only makes it easier to keep your fundraisers efficient, it keeps the process consistent.
Planning for a campaign is generally the most time consuming part. You need a lot of information upfront and you have to spend a lot of time planning communications, deadlines, and events. You need a database that will track all of this from the beginning so that there is no question about what comes next, who has pledged to donate, or what the current value of the campaign is.
You also want to have a way to compare your campaigns. If one was particularly problematic, you need to be able to see what was different between it and one of your highly successful campaigns to see where mistakes were made and how they can be fixed in the future. If you had a campaign that was wildly more successful than expected (such as the Ice Bucket Challenge), you want to spend time analyzing why it went so much better than anticipated. Campaign comparison lets you work to reproduce the successes and avoid making similar mistakes to the lowest yielding fundraisers.
Beyond Simple Data Entry
As a company that specializes in fundraising, you know that there is much more to managing than simple data entry. Perhaps it isn’t as critical as that of a hospital database, but with so much financial information, you have to contend with a lot of rules and regulations. You also have to deal with many different types of relationships and emotions. Any time you are working on a special case (and this can happen frequently), you need to have reliable notes to make sure that communication meets the needs and expectations of your clients. You need to adopt their tone and style in your communication, which means that you will have a lot of different tones to manage between the different campaigns.
You also have to consider extras that customers will want, such as gifts and awards. For example, silent auctions will require you to track all of the bids and ship each item to the winners. Other times customers may want you to send a gift to donors who spend or give at least $50. Even after the main event is over, you will still have a lot of work to do analyzing and finishing up the campaign.
The biggest concern of any company that deals with financial information is security. You want a database that is extremely difficult to hack and that has different levels of access based on the needs of the user. However, you also want the processes to be as automated as possible to reduce human error. It is a fine line, and one that is very difficult to balance. If your clients are located in different states and countries, you will need to be aware of the rules and regulations for all of them, and you will need to ensure your database meets them all. You will need to create the databases to reflect what security measures are necessary.
Securing databases is especially important for fundraising professionals given the sensitivity of donor information in many nonprofit organizations. Normally information about donors is restricted to only those staff with an explicit need to know and the amounts of gifts are treated as one of the organizations most sensitive data elements. People are naturally curious about financial information and administrators must configure fundraising databases to keep information safe from prying eyes.