If you’re a nonprofit decision maker, at some point you’ll have to consider (or reconsider) how to choose a fundraising platform for your organization. This can be a painful process. Over the last 10 years, there’s been an explosion of online fundraising products, tools and software. There are legacy systems, niche players and shiny new things. Some are stand alone, some integrate directly into your website, and yet others are mobile-only apps. It’s enough to make your head spin.
Every time we redesign a client’s website, we’re asked what the “best” fundraising platform is, and the answer is, it depends. There are a host of factors you’ll need to consider, from revenue goals to technology requirements to how you’ll staff and oversee the system. So I’ve dedicated my next two posts to providing a framework you can use to help make the right decision. It won’t be an overview of available products–there are entire websites dedicated to that–but rather, what you’ll need to take into account to help you make the right choices. I’ll cover:
Let’s start with performing an online fundraising needs and expectations audit.
The Online Fundraising Platform Audit
Choosing the right fundraising platform will pay benefits for years. Making the wrong choice will result in unhappy donors, irate staff and crucially, lost time that could have been spent on more productive fundraising.
The solution to avoiding costly mistakes is to think through the purpose and implementation of your fundraising platform as deeply as possible. The clearer the focus you have on what you want out of these systems, the closer you’ll get to the right approach. Picking the tools themselves is the easy part–indeed they all really do the same thing, to varying degrees–but to get there, you’ll need to know why you need that specific product.
The first step in performing the audit will be to gather feedback from the relevant individuals on your team. In an organization with a small staff, this might include:
A larger organization might include:
No matter what size team, the idea is to hear from a range of voices, since each will help to shape fundraising system requirements. Casting a wide net also promotes a greater chance of fundraising success since key individuals will have had buy-in around the product(s) and thus greater motivation to see things work.
Asking the Right Questions
With your review team in place, it’s time to really dig down and uncover the needs and goals that your fundraising platform will need to satisfy. The answers you develop will inform the types of tools you’ll require, how they’ll fit into your existing marketing and technology “stack,” and how you’ll oversee their use and output.
The solution to avoiding costly mistakes is to think through the purpose and implementation of your fundraising platform as deeply as possible.
These questions can be presented via email or in-person discovery session. In either case, I recommend providing an introduction to your review team that summarizes why you’re undertaking this exercise and the benefits that will be derived from it (see above). Again, making key players feel part of the process will go a long way towards a positive outcome.
Based on our experience helping clients shape their fundraising platform requirements, I’ve listed a series of questions that you should include in your review, grouped by topic. You can amend or add to these as you see fit, but they represent a good starting point to ensure that you’re covering all bases:
Tactical and Technology Requirements
In sum, you’ll now have answers to the three most important concerns when selecting a fundraising platform:
You may find it helpful to summarize your answers into a spreadsheet for quick reference; this will come in handy when you begin to research specific tools and talk to product representatives, who will now have a good understanding of what your requirements are.
Having done your homework, you’ll now be informed (and in our experience, well ahead of many organizations that simply jump right into product selection). But before you begin researching fundraising platforms and talking to product experts, I recommend one additional step, and that’s understanding the various categories of fundraising platforms, how they will impact your fundraising efforts and how much of your toolset can or should be custom-developed. That’s all for next time.
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