Trends in Donor Management
(This article originally appeared in the Nonprofit Times.) As user demand increases, vendors are adapting their donor management system offerings to support mobile devices and cloud computing, one of several recent market trends that are adding value and capability to the software. They’re also enhancing functionality that’s critical for nonprofits, like integrated email and ease of use, in many cases adding substantial functionality without raising prices.
- Mobile Computing. As mobile devices become both more popular and more powerful, vendors are optimizing their donor management systems to support access from tablet computer and smartphone web browsers. A few offer specialized applications, or “apps,” that facilitate use from mobile devices, allowing fundraisers or directors to gather information about prospects or even enter notes or gifts from the road. Many of the vendors who have not yet addressed this trend have stated their intention to do so in the near future.
- Hosted/Remote Access. Vendors are also designing systems to accommodate web accessibility, often called cloud computing, Software as a Service (SaaS) or Application Service Provision (ASP). Users can work from virtually any computer, and because it’s hosted rather than installed, vendors handle setup and maintenance, reducing strain on IT staff. Most of the leading systems now offer hosted solutions—even some that have traditionally been available only as installed packages.
- Email. The presence of any email functionality at all in a donor management system was noteworthy in 2009, but this year’s crop of systems shows a significant shift toward strong email support. The more-advanced broadcast email capabilities allow fundraisers to easily send formatted emails personalized to each donor, and to track who opens and clicks-through on each. Some vendors have built their own functionality into their systems, but the general trend is to integrate with existing services like Constant Contact and VerticalResponse.
- CRM Convergence. There used to be a clear distinction between specialist donor management systems and Constituent Relationship Management systems (CRMs), which allow organizations to track many different kinds of constituents in addition to donors. That line has blurred noticeably as these types of systems converge. More and more donor management systems include stronger features for managing other types of constituents, and general-purpose CRMs are starting to include specialized donor management functionality. The result is a greater selection of software that can be used across whole organizations rather than only for specific departments.
- Access to External Data. Vendors are enabling systems with the ability to easily integrate additional data about donors—for instance, to pull in wealth-screening information that lets users see who’s likely to be major donor prospects. Many vendors are also exploring the possibility of pulling social media information into their systems as well. Though most have not gotten very far down this path yet, there’s a clear shift in this direction.
- User Experience. Form usually follows function with software, but as Information Technology becomes more mainstream, vendors are recognizing the value of a positive user-experience. In addition to power, donor management systems are beginning to offer more flexible, aesthetically pleasing user interfaces. Most now let users rearrange screen elements, rename data fields or hide those they use infrequently, create “dashboards” of the tasks and information most valuable to them, and customize software workflows to better match how work is done in their organizations. Many systems even let individual users customize their own settings.
- Reporting. Finally, reporting capability has become much stronger field-wide over the past two years. The ability to include charts and graphs in reports is quickly becoming the standard rather than a bonus, as is support for adding favorite reports to dashboards to provide quick, critical information on a per role—and sometimes per user—basis.