Top Six Do’s and Don’ts for Thanking Your Supporters

As we gear up for year-end fundraising, it’s important to remember to thank your donors for every fundraising campaign. I know it seems like we say it a lot, but it bears repeating—thank your donors. While this should be a common sense point to make, many organizations may stall on the thank you process because they aren’t sure of what their donors would want to hear, or what donors should be thanked.

Here are six tips for thanking your donors effectively, without it feeling like an afterthought.
1.       Thank everyone! I know it is easier to thank only people who donate $250 or more, but you lose so much when you don’t offer at least a simple thank you to everyone. I’ve seen $10 a year donors turn around and leave an organization a huge bequest! To manage the workload, consider creating a strategy that thanks supporters by tiers—like “Gave $250 or more,” “$100 to $250,” “less than $100,” etc.
2.       Get creative. Mailed thank you letters are always nice—especially with an actual signature—but when your thank you stands out it makes for a much stronger impression. My recent donation to a preschool was thanked by a student, and we keep the card on our fridge.
3.       Make it at least a little personal. The extra time it takes to put pen to paper and sign a mail-merged thank you letter does go a long way. You don’t want your donors to feel like one of many—you want to make them feel special. A simple signature can help, a personal note is better, and a phone call is best.
4.       The extra effort is worth it. When donors feel appreciated, they come back. Last year I donated to a local organization where I know both the Board President and Board Secretary personally. When we received our thank you letter it was signed by a person we didn’t know, without even a personal note from either acquaintance. It has caused us to reduce our gift this year because we feel they are not taking the time to strategically fundraise, and so we feel our gift would be better invested elsewhere.
5.       Be timely. I know that it is a huge crunch at the end of the year to process donations and create your thank you letters. But don’t let the time get away from you. Thanking donors is important; thanking them in a timely manner gives a positive impression. Perhaps consider an online thank you in the short term, and sending the offline thank you’s on a more manageable timeframe.
6.       Report on your progress. Showing donors the impact of their gift is the best way to say thank you. Try and report on your progress in a variety of ways— more than just the annual report of your standard stuff. Use technology, newsletters, phone calls, thank you letters, and TV ads (among other things) to show all of the amazing work you were able to accomplish because of your donors.
Repeat donors is the name of the game in fundraising. And that is where thank you letters come in. Not making it clear to your donors that you appreciate them and their financial contribution is the best way to lose a donor. No matter the size of the gift, someone has made a choice to donate to your organization instead of doing something elsedonating to a different organization, buying a cup of coffee or a brand new carand it is your job to help them feel like they made the right choice.  Saying thank you is the minimum you should be doing to show your appreciation.


Best of the Web: November 2013

The Idealware “Best of the Web” is a monthly roundup of the top nonprofit resources from the Idealware blog, our Facebook page, and our Twitter feed to help you make the right technology decisions. 
Sophisticated multimedia software makes creating beautiful images a lot easier for designers. However, most nonprofits don't have room in their budgets for pricey software suites, especially when they simply want to make a nice looking poster or edit some photos from an event. These alternative software choices can make your organization look professional, without paying a professional price.
Creating a fundraising or advocacy ask can be a scary proposition. You want to convey the importance of your mission and the real need behind your ask without being overbearing to your audience. This infographic will remind you to take a little extra care when creating this kind of appeal, and remind you of the major turnoffs to avoid.
Just because some websites are rampant with cheesy animations, typos, and illegible blocks of yellow Comic Sans doesn't mean your website needs to be. We're not pointing any fingers, but this blog post will remind you of a few big no-no's that should not make it to the final design of your website.
When Windows 8 came on the scene just over a year ago, it met with mixed reviews. What are these tiles, where is my start button, and why has my laptop morphed into a pseudo-tablet? Windows 8 has since undergone a major update which addresses many concerns of early users. If you have a computer with Windows 8 installed, you may have wondered whether or not you should update to 8.1. Your answer is in this review.
More and more, software vendors are creating systems with Constituent Relationship Management functionality. When exactly do you need this, and why is it useful for nonprofits? This guest post on the Idealware blog was written by the Community Manager at Heller Consulting to help nonprofits find the right system.
Could it really be so easy? According to MediaCause, taking a little extra time to plan out your posts will more than double your current engagement. While there aren't many easy tactics that will work for everyone, coming up with a plan for your content and looking at your metrics is a great place to start.
Peek into any busy coffee shop and you'll see people staring into their smartphones and typing away on their laptops. It may seem like just about everyone is online now, but 15 percent of Americans continue to remain unplugged. Is living offline bliss, or are people falling prey to the digital divide in our culture? PEW Internet looked for the answers.
Your organization is busy, and you want to let your followers know what you've been working on at all times. But the question remains: Are you alienating your email list by filling up their inboxes? Does anybody care enough to recieve multiple updates each week? This infographic looks at a few metrics, and tries to find the "sweet spot" in email.
If you're still mourning the loss of Google Reader, you might find some comfort in checking out these other tools. Uncovering interesting content on these sites is not only fun, but can be a great way to add a bit of wisdom to your social media presence.
For as long as hashtags are popular, there will be people curious about the best way to use them. The answer is not always clear. It requires a bit of creativity and the right group to make a hashtag work. When done well, a hashtag can grow your online audience, and bring a wide community a bit closer. Whether you want to decode the # sign on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr, this article will be a good place to start your journey.

Peer-to-Peer Fundraising in the Real World

To coincide with the launch of our latest resource, Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Made Easy: A Step-by-Step Workbook, we solicited this guest post from Nicole Lagace. Nicole is Interim Executive Director at HousingWorks RI, an organization working to ensure that all Rhode Islanders have quality, affordable homes, and a former board member of Girls Rock! Rhode Island.  
Last year Girls Rock! Rhode Island—an amazing volunteer-run nonprofit that uses music creation and critical thinking to foster empowerment, collaborative relationships, and the development of healthy identities in girls and women—decided to use Razoo, a peer-to-peer fundraising tool, for its annual campaign. Razoo lets 501c3s create a branded portal for online giving. Even better, anyone can start a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign for any nonprofit on Girls Rock! encouraged board members like me and several camp alumni to create campaigns for the organization so near and dear to their hearts.
I started my campaign on November 9, 2012, with a goal of raising $500 before the end of the year and started receiving donations almost immediately. Keep in mind that these were donors who had never before given to Girls Rock!, but as my peers, they knew how important the organization was to me.
Throughout the fundraiser, I reminded them how important the organization was in my campaign story by talking about the life-changing work the organization was doing with young girls and my experience volunteering. I shared a photo of myself actively engaged with campers and shared our vision of a world in which gender and identity are assets, not limitations, and where girls and women actively claim their own strengths and expertise to pursue goals of their own design.
To create a buzz, I made sure to publicly acknowledge each donation on Facebook.  This simultaneously allowed me to link to the campaign daily and encourage more friends to click to my campaign and consider giving. I also made personal appeals via email to my peers not on Facebook who I thought would value the work of Girls Rock! Finally, I offered my own premium—after the campaign, in January, all donors would received a personalized thank you song (MP3) written by me, a fitting thank you for giving the gift of rock.
How successful was it? Within the first week, I had 13 donors and raised $480. By the end of the year I raised $750 using Razoo and engaged 22 new donors for the organization. In total, the organization raised over $3,400 via seven personal campaigns and engaged 102 new donors—not too shabby for an experiment and first-time annual campaign.
Around the same time Girls Rock! was planning its campaign, I attended a fundraising workshop about annual end-of-year appeals. Donors need to feel a connection to the organizations they are giving to; they need to understand that their dollars are being put to good use; they want to hear personal stories—the workshop leader brought in various examples of direct mail pieces and urged workshop participants to find the story that would resonate most, but balked when asked about online campaigns. The implication was that “online” is for younger folks, and young folks don’t generally give. She eventually conceded that young folks do give—and they give online—but not very much, making an end-of-year annual direct mail piece the best way to raise a lot of money for a nonprofit.
The direct mail piece may still work for larger nonprofits with a budget for massive mailings, but what if you are raising money for a fledgling nonprofit with a connection to potential donors that exists mostly online? Peer-to-peer fundraising tools offer the opportunity to access supporters online, immediately test different messages, tweak campaigns, and ultimately use the power of social networks to engage even more donors.
This type of fundraising is the best thing since sliced bread for small nonprofits, but it does take some effort. If you’re involved in a campaign, be sure to actively recruit campaigners—ask your board members or people with a special connection or story to share. Offer them encouragement and guidance on campaign messaging, but allow room for their own voices to come through. Give tips on how to engage more people and promote their campaigns via your own social media channels. You can also encourage healthy competition by offering a small prize for most money raised or most donors engaged.
I learned firsthand that fundraisers need to play an active role, but my enthusiasm for the organization made that easy. This year I’ve started a new campaign via Razoo for the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, another organization I believe strongly in. The campaign is associated with #GivingTuesday, so any pledges made aren’t visible until December 3. The suspense is killing me, but I’m confident the effort will be worth the wait.
Nicole Lagace is Interim Executive Director at HousingWorks RI. In her spare time she serves as the Communications Chair on the Board of Directors for the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island and continues to volunteer with Girls Rock! Rhode Island as an instrument instructor. She’s also the bass player for the band Gertrude Atherton.


Nonprofit Film School Appendix: Trailers, Music Videos, and You.

This post assumes that you’re already familiar with the basics of video production. If you’re not, you can get a quick introduction here.

You’re all ready to make a video for your nonprofit. Armed with your camera, editing software, and knowledge, it’s time to dive in. But what type of video are you making? In this blog post, we’ll be talking about trailers, music videos, and other videos that depend on music cues.

When I’m talking about trailers, I’m talking about videos in the style of a movie trailer - you’re providing a short “teaser” of an upcoming event. There’s a few different specific times a nonprofit would want to make a trailer, including big volunteer or fundraising events (walk-a-thons, galas, etc.) and announcing a new program (like we just did at Idealware with our Tactical Tech Training.

Why would you want to make a trailer? What are the benefits? In a trailer, you’re combining music and voiceovers with footage from an actual event. For a movie trailer, that would usually mean actual footage from the movie itself, but for a nonprofit, that probably means you’re using photos and video from past events to give your audience an idea of what to expect this year. These types of videos also benefit from familiarity. Most people are already familiar with movie trailers, and will recognize just from the format what you’re telling them (“We have something coming up that you should be excited about!”). Because of this, you’re completely allowed to borrow elements from actual movie trailers - “In a world gone mad, one organization will rise to the challenge.” You have two goals with your video: 1) get a lot of people to watch it, and 2) get them pumped up.

In a similar vein, there are also music videos. While these aren’t as valuable to nonprofits as a trailer might be, the two share a lot of similar goals and features. Both exist to get an audience excited for something (in this case, instead of a movie or event, it’s a product, the album the music comes from). Both rely heavily on music to convey that message. And both are fun to watch and (hopefully) fun to make.

Trailers and music videos also share one important production tip. Whichever of these types of videos you make, you have to cue the images with the music. Major actions, transitions, all the exciting moments--these must happen on the beat. That means that you have to listen to the music over and over, find the beat, and line up all your footage. There doesn’t have to be a new image on every beat, but the more frequent the changes, the more exciting the video. Play with the speed of the transitions to get your audience more engaged. In general, longer takes will go at the beginning, when the music is probably slower or quieter, and faster takes will go towards the end, when you’re building up to the exciting climax.

But the most important tip for these types of videos is to have fun making them. They’re a chance to let your hair down, listen to music, and be a little silly.

Building Your Email List Q&A

If you're paying for 50,000 subscribers on your broadcast email tool, why not use them all? Building your list of email subscribers is easier said than done, and with the ever looming temptation of buying a list hanging overhead, it can be difficult to do it on your own. Even if you are pushing out great content, some people just can't be pleased, and will unsubscribe faster than you can say "spam." In our latest session in The Email Fundraiser's Toolkit, we talked about the touchy subject of email list-building and how you can make it work for your organization. 

We have a list of people who have participated in our program either as a program volunteer or participant. We haven't emailed them in the past, can we send them emails?

The short answer is yes, it is OK to add past program participants and volunteers to your email list. But make sure you are smart about it!
If you have had their emails for a while, make sure to add them in a strategic way. Consider sending a special email to the list explaining where you got their email from and that you’d like to add them to your email list. Remember to make the case for why they should be on your list--explain the value. Importantly, make sure to offer either an opt-in or opt-out option so that they have some control over their involvement. This email will act both as an explanation as to why they are suddenly getting email from your organization and offer a choice for inclusion. 
Do you have any data on response for opt-in vs. opt-out (e.g. are the addresses gathered through an opt-out only process less likely to give)?
We talked about this in depth in class, but I wanted to see fi we could locate specific data. Here are two interesting articles on the topic:
A great contact for us is special education teachers within the school districts.  I can find their email addresses online, but from what you've said today, I would be spamming them if I contacted them via email. What is your suggestion for contacting them?  Or can I contact them initially via email and then ask them to opt in/opt out?
You are right, if you pull names of individuals from the web and email them on mass without any relationship, no matter how much you think they should care about what you have to say, you are spamming them. Emailing them individually, however, is in bounds. You could send a personal email to each person with an introduction and an invitation to join your list.  
For this particular group, consider if there is an association who might be able to help. Potentially you could connect with a professional network of special educators ( or What about the school union or state education department? Using a partner introduction might be an interesting approach to list building for this area. 
What are some good examples of eNewsletters?
I love these two newsletters from Philadelphia arts organizations: The Eastern State Penitentiary ( and the Headlong Dance Theater ( ESP provides a well thought out, meaty eNews in a more traditional format. Headlong offers a completely different, out-of-the-box feel that directly reflects the values of the organization.  Also look at the examples in these articles:
  • "Three Nonprofit e-Newsletters to Subscribe To and Learn From” on Nonprofit Tech for Good:
  • “The Dissection of a Bloody Good Email Newsletter” on The Vertical Response Blog:


Writing Effective Emails Q&A

Creating stirring content for fundraising emails is challenging enough without taking on the added difficulty of making it eye catching and engaging. From intriguing subject lines to fundraising progress thermometers to a personal sign off, there is a lot you can do to make that extra connection with a donor through email. In the second class in our Email Fundraiser's Toolkit, we took on the individual pieces of an email, what makes them stand out, and how you can design your own. However, making it all work together in a campaign is rarely without some trepidation, so we answered a number of questions here that we hope you find useful.
Can a “too relaxed” voice hurt a campaign?
It is important to be careful to have your voice match your message and the medium. While emails are definitely a “more relaxed” medium than direct mail, you don’t want to take it too far. A voice that feels too extreme will not be effective in motivating your readers to donate. Use your best judgment—if something feels off, odds are it is. 
Is there a tool or website we can use to make a thermometer?
If your online tool doesn’t provide a thermometer or progress bar, you can try obtaining a separate one. Here are a few places to get you started:
And if you feel like thermometers just aren’t your thing, consider reading this interesting whitepaper from Kivi Leroux Miller on alternative images for demonstrating campaign progress:
Where would you list the tangible results?
Presenting the tangible result of a donation is key to motivating your constituents to act. How and where you present this information will vary based on your overall story and approach. Weaving it through the narrative will feel seamless if done right and can be very powerful. If you are looking to list a series of results based on varying gift amounts (ex. $50 will feed a family for a week; $200 will feed a family for a month) you should think about placing that information on your donation landing page. This will help motivate your donors when they are choosing how much to give to the campaign. We have also seen successful lists included in the email itself, mostly either on the side bar or a super short list in the ps. 
Is there value to having our executive director as the sender of an email even if they did not compose it? Should I still include a photo next to my signature, or photo of the person/people featured in our email(s)?
The person who actually crafts the letter does not need to be the one who publically signs it. We see this all the time in direct mail where the development staff will compose the letter and have the ED sign it. It is best practice to have the email from line be consistent with the signer of the letter. So if it is your ED signing the letter their name should be in the from line as well. Including a picture or scanned signature (or both) in the signature line helps to personalize the communication, just make sure there is consistency from top to bottom. And as with the Literacy Volunteers example from the class, if your ED is signing, but the story is about another person you can include their image as well, but be mindful to make it clear who is who both in location of the images as well as with the title of the photo. 
How do you know you're not exceeding the reasonableness (and tolerance) of what the recipients are willing and interested in receiving from you?
If you send too many emails to your list you will know. You’ll see a spike in unsubscribes and SPAM flags if you cross a clear line. While it will be somewhat gradual, when you start to see people fleeing from your list in larger than expected numbers you should pull back. Keep in mind, more people than normal will unsubscribe from your list in response to any given fundraising appeal, so an initial jump in response to your campaign should be expected, but any increase should be investigated. You should also pay attention to feedback form your constituents, if you are concerned about the volume, call a few constituents—volunteers, board members, staff, random donors—and check to see their reaction.  
Should thank you emails go to the whole list or rather on a 1:1 basis that's personalized and specific to their gift?
You should be thinking about thanking your donors in a few different ways. First, and perhaps most straightforward, when they make a donation online your donation tool should send them an individual tax receipt. The more you can customize that receipt, the better. Second, you should plan to send a thank you to your entire list reporting on the campaign as a whole. Letting everyone, donors and non-donors, know about your successes can only improve your next campaign, and who knows, maybe some of your non-donors will donate in response. Additionally, you should consider a personal thank you to every donor initiated by your organization. Hand written thank you letters in response to online donations are a nice touch, thank you calls from your Board can be very compelling, and of course, a personal email thank you will work as well. Depending on the number of donations you receive you could consider setting a threshold for the additional thank you, say only sending personal notes to donors of $50 or more. But I tend to lean towards including as many personalized connections as possible. You never know, that $25 annual donor might lead to your next big bequeath.  
Do you know any statistics on the effectiveness of organizations switching into email fundraising annual campaigns from snail mail campaigns?  
Please don’t abandon your direct mail campaigns for an email-only approach! All signs point to the success of integrated campaigns above all else. Direct mail will often trigger an online donation and frequently emails will remind a donor of that direct mail envelope on their coffee table. Email fundraising is a new way you can connect with your donors, but you shouldn’t see it as a replacement for your direct mail campaign, but instead consider it in compliment. Joanne Fritz presents a nice case for the staying power of direct mail and the value of adding in email to the mix.  She also links to some helpful statistics, check out her argument here:

Kicking Off a Technology Project Right

Taproot Foundation president Aaron Hurst has written a fair amount, including a whole book, on managing pro-bono projects. Last year he posted a pretty interesting idea about “Pre-Mortems” 
His basic premise is that it can be useful to have a full team meeting prior to the start of the meeting, to discuss:
"Assume that, six months down the road, everything that could go wrong on this project has gone wrong. What went wrong? And why?
Focus on the three to five most likely reasons that the project could fail or go off the rails. Then map back how you could have prevented these meltdowns. Finally, incorporate those changes into your project plan before you actually get to work."
I love this idea. It’s a kind of fun way to brainstorm possible risks and risk mitigation (and it’s a pretty unusual day when you get to put “risk migitation” and “fun” in the same sentence). 
 I’d add to it a really powerful tactic that I was trained in back in my consulting firm days. We would include a roundup of project goals in our kickoff meetings --all goals, everyone’s goals. So not only the overall goal to create a great website for a client, but also the firm’s goal of using this project to get more arts clients and the hope that we’re able to create a show-stopping portfolio piece.  And then each of the team member’s goals. So the assistant assigned to the project may want to get more experience working directly with clients, while the graphic design wants to work on finding the right balance between work and getting home at 5:30 for her daughter. The web designer may really want to build a website using a particular technology.
It’s unusual that all those goals can actually come to fruition on one project, but it’s really useful to have them out on the table, especially from a project management perspective. You can keep an eye on them, to try to help fulfill those that make sense based on the project, and if you can’t make a goal happen, at least you have in mind that you’re violating someone’s hope for the project --- which can help you understand why they seem to be lobbying in an odd direction, or to make it up to them later, on a different project.
What project kickoff techniques have you used that have worked well for you? 


Getting Started with Email Fundraising Q&A

Even for experienced email fundraisers, getting your message heard during a busy season of appeals can be a challenge. Connecting with your donors via email can seem especially difficult if you're venturing into email fundraising for the first time, or haven't found a lot of success in the past. For the benefit of those taking our Email Fundraiser's Toolkit, and the benefit of our followers not in the class as well, we've compiled a list of some of the questions being asked in class and answered them here. Hopefully together we can shed some light on the elements that make a strong email fundraising campaign.
I'm really interested in fundraising pitches that are connected to the campaign under way--seems like there's a lot of that going on these days. For example, someone signs a petition and they get asked to give to support the campaign as a next automatic step.
These kind of follow up asks do make sense. We find that the best donors are often the ones who have just made a connection to the organization in a different way. You do need to be careful, however, that you aren’t over asking. It can turn a feel-good moment into a negative experience if your constituent feels like they were only asked to sign that petition so you could have a way to ask them for money.
Should planning around informational emails/newsletters with fundraising ones be separate and at different times or can they be combined?
Asks that are buried within informational emails like an eNewsletter are often not as successful as those that stand alone. That being said, a healthy mix of communications is the way to go. Make sure to continue your eNews communications during your fundraising campaigns to remind your constituents of the great work you do. Continue emails about services or events as well to show the impact of your work. You can always include a passive ask in each of your communications, but just don’t expect huge revenue from emails that aim to accomplish multiple goals. Standalone fundraising requests will most often raise the most money for your campaigns.
Could you give an example of a negative element?
The famous commercials from the ASPCA showing images of abused animals with heartfelt music playing in the background is the quintessential example of “going negative” with a fundraising campaign. And in this case, it definitely works. However, keep in mind that you have to do it just right to make an appropriate impact. Showing your constituents as pitiful, helpless, or gravely injured could potentially undermine your efforts if you fail to show the “light at the end of the tunnel.” Your constituents need to understand how their donation can create change, otherwise you might feel like a “lost cause.”
We have a happy cause: kids form a team, solve an educational challenge, present it at tournament and have a great time doing it. They learn 21st Century skills and workplace skills. How do we sell that positive cause?
Simply from this description we can get an image of your program, constituents, and the impact of your program. I would think about bringing in images or videos from the program, complete with quotes from kids to emphasize the value of your work. Hearing kids articulate, in their own voice, the value from your program seems like a fantastic place to start. You might consider a series with a written letter from a “kid ambassador” of sorts, a letter from a parent or teacher and then a short video that combines each perspective to hit the concept home.
We need money for "bricks and mortar" and operating expenses. We can get grants for specific programs, but how do we make a tangible result for paying the staff?
Everything that you do is supported by general operating money. Don’t feel like because the money raised from an email campaign is going to pay for heat that you can only talk about the cost of oil. All of your stories are on the table for these type of campaigns.
How much is too much info?
You want to try and keep your emails short and to the point. Unlike the trend towards multi-page direct mail pieces, you need to try and be highly concise with your emails. I’ve seen successful emails that only presented three sentences (and we’ll look at some in class #2). Be conscious of what can be read in an Outlook preview pane as well as how much text you can include above the fold of the email page. Also consider that a reasonable amount of your constituents will be reading your emails on their mobile phones where space is at a premium.
Can you include different perspectives in one ask? For example, donor, volunteer, and client?
You can consider including a few different perspectives in one email, but will need to think about length at that point. It might be interesting to present a few different perspectives in an introductory email and then explore each perspective in subsequent supporting emails.
How would you sync an email campaign with a direct-mailing and a phone bank?
Being conscious of the fact that requests are coming at your donors from multiple angles is a great start! If you are using multiple channels at once it is best to try and think about them as one cohesive campaign, using a consistent story and being thoughtful about how each can contribute to the whole.  Consider the timing of each communication and acknowledge multiple communications if there is overlap. For example, if you are calling people after they have received your direct mail, it might be helpful to mention that they should have received a letter from you.
How far apart should you space these appeals?
Once you have decided how many emails you will send, think about key milestones in your campaign. When will you start? When will you end? And how many weeks do you have in between? Often we recommend starting a little slow and building towards the deadline. So, if we are looking at a six week calendar, sending one the first week, one the third, one the fifth, and one or two the sixth.  But the model is not set in stone, and if we are talking about an end-of-year campaign, where the holidays fall with often dictate frequency throughout.
What if we are getting started with an email fundraising approach for the first time ever? Are there any special (additional) points to consider?
When starting an email fundraising campaign you need to be extra careful to have your house in order before you jump in. Building a solid email list should be your number one priority, as it will be hard to raise money if you don’t have any email addresses. You also need to take care to set up your Broadcast Email and Online Donation tools before you get started. Without the proper infrastructure you will find it difficult to implement the campaign. Finally, you need to make sure you appropriately set your expectations. In our experience, email fundraising campaigns start slow and then grow after a few iterations. Don’t give up on the program if you don’t raise buckets of money. Give the program time to mature—remember, you need to train your donors to give online before it can become an institution.

What Can a CRM Do For Me?

This guest post comes to us from Monika McMahon, Community Manager for Heller Consulting, a national nonprofit technology firm. Find more from Heller Consulting and other nonprofit technology and strategy experts at, a place for experts in the nonprofit online space to share perspective, offer guidance and promote best practices for using today’s technology effectively.

You’ve been hearing about CRM (a Constituent Relationship Management system) and want more information on the benefits of using one for your nonprofit organization. First of all, a CRM is generally not just one piece of software but ends up being multiple pieces of software working in coordination with business practices to manage information and meet key business needs. Below are just a few of the many benefits your organization may encounter with the introduction of a CRM.

Engaging for Constituents

360 Degree View - A CRM helps you treat each of your constituents as a whole person by allowing you to see how they’ve engaged with you in the past while also showing the many ways they relate to your organization. When you have all of their data in the same place, you can clearly see who this person is, thank them for their previous donations, and facilitate a deeper relationship between your organization and your constituent.

Communications - The phrase used to be “Reach the right people, with the right message at the right address.” These days it’s become “Reach the right people, with the right message, through the right channel”. CRM’s allow you to track where people tend to interact, whether that is via social, email, phone etc. allowing your organization to mirror your communication to them using the channel they prefer. This makes you more responsive to the constituent as well as more cost effective and efficient to the organization.


More Complete Picture - The more information you gather, the more complete of a picture of your individual constituents you will have. This information can show you who they are and how they are engaged with not only you, but your entire organization. Then you can start to identify trends of which groups of people are engaging with you and in which ways so you can appropriately plan out your next message.

Democratizing the Database - When you are operating in a siloed environment, only certain people will have access to certain systems. Bringing them together in a unified environment, allows your entire organization access to the same information in the same format and location. This freedom of information spurs better conversation with your constituents and throughout your organization, which leads to further innovation and improved relationships.

Organizational Efficiency

Fewer Silos and Databases - Let’s look at the people side of things. A CRM allows you organizational efficiency by decreasing the number of systems employees have to learn and manage. One of the biggest complaints we hear is that people do not understand the 3 or 4 systems that their organization uses to store information. With a unified system, this number drops: staff only needs to be trained on one consolidated system, saving time and effort. This also leads to better business practices. With a unified system you can standardize complex processes like how your organization handles the different forms of revenue.

Working Together - This leads to one of the biggest changes we’ve seen, which is also the most impactful. People in your organization start to get on the same page, thinking similarly about business practices, using the same tools and building relationships with the same constituents.

All of the benefits of a CRM mentioned above will help support your future by helping you build better relationships, allowing for greater innovation and by growing with you and your organizations needs. It is important to note that there are many shades and sizes of CRM’s and some have been specifically designed to work for nonprofits. Some systems tailor to membership organizations, others are for student enrollment and others were built for general nonprofits to assist with fundraising. Selecting a solution that is meant for the mission you are trying to push, will result in a larger boost in productivity.

To get a wider perspective on CRM and how it works in an organization, Heller Consulting interviewed the executives of 30 nonprofits to find out how they view CRM systems and how they apply the concepts to their strategies. The results of these interviews are available in the free report “Insights into CRM for Nonprofits,” available for download from



Selecting a Donor Management System – Eight Questions to Consider

Idealware's research team is hard at work on an update to our popular report comparing and reviewing donor management systems, which is scheduled for release in the next couple of weeks. To whet your appetite, we wanted to share a guest post from Larry Perlstein, a technology specialist who has worked for a number of consulting firms and has an enviable amount of eperience working with nonprofits, about choosing donor management systems. After you've read it, bookmark it and refer back to it after you've had a chance to digest our report.

Recently, I held a roundtable for nonprofit organizations embarking on selecting a donor management system. I asked the participants the following eight questions, which proved useful in helping them refine their objectives and focus their activities:

  1. How do YOU define Donor Management System? Does it include ticketing, customer relationship management, email marketing, membership management, and more? Many vendors are moving from an entry point of single functionality to a broad set of integrated applications. It’s important to understand what functionality you are in need of and what are your priorities to avoid buying some more complicated (and more expensive) than necessary. Of course, it’s also important to be cognitive of where you are headed so that you can grow into the system.
  2. When do you know you need a Donor Management System? Have you outgrown your Excel spreadsheet? Are you beginning a major fundraising campaign? Knowing when you need to implement a Donor Management System is important … first, it’s not wise to acquire once before you are ready as your organization may not have the capacity or the ability to organize and enter the required information. Starting too early can lead to fits and starts, which is fatiguing. Starting too late, however, can require an excessive amount of manual activity as data is updated to the requirements of the new system.
  3. Should you install the system on-premise, use a Software-as-a-Service-based system, or install it in the cloud? Now may be a good time to re-evaluate your current IT installation and look for alternatives to on-premise installs. You might be able to get rid of that old server and select a vendor who offers the application as a service accessible from any web browser. Or you could find a traditional vendor who can install the application using a cloud provider. The reduced costs, improved flexibility, ease of maintenance, and greater security make either option worthy of examination.
  4. Should you install an all-in-one integrated system or mix and match different pieces? Have you been building your own best-of-breed application suite over the years only to find that they pieces don’t all fit together? An integrated suite offers many advantages, including consistent look and feel, single point of control workflow, data consistency, and ease of upgrades. It can, however, not provide all of the best-of-breed functionality you’re looking for … but is that what you really need? An integrated suite satisfying 80 percent of your requirements is likely sufficient to satisfy your needs while significantly reducing complexity.
  5. Are you taking the proper precautions with respect to customer data security and backup? Are you walking around with your donor list in Excel on your unsecured laptop? First things first … data needs to be securely backed up and there are no excuses for not doing so with the plethora of hard drives available and the prevalence of secure online backup systems. Secondly, unsecured data puts your organization at risk. Data security concerns and liability are increasingly problematic and require strong system controls that are often beyond the scope of small businesses, so look to the cloud for the best solutions.
  6. Have you evaluated the viability of your vendor, and do you have a migration plan if they fail? Sure you made certain your vendor was viable when you bought the package six years ago, but have you checked lately? Checking in with your vendor every year to ensure their financial stability is sound is a best practice, and should augment controls built into your contract that give you rights to the software code, if applicable, and data export capabilities. Some warning signs of vendor viability issues are excessive turnover of the developers, infrequent software updates, new and increasing fees for services, and rumors of acquisition.
  7. Do you use services such as CommunityCorps to find technical professional volunteer help? Have a project that you just don’t have the resources to complete? There are volunteer professionals waiting to help you and available through organizations such as CommunityCorps. Simply post the details of the project on their website and volunteers can indicate their interest in helping you.
  8. Do you use resources such as TechSoup and Idealware to help you acquire software, hardware and services specifically for nonprofits? It may go without saying that you are using these resources (and others) if you are reading this blog. However, it’s worth reiterating the value of selecting solutions specifically geared both functionally and financially toward nonprofits. Nonprofit organizations both small and large have a vast array of solutions to choose from at varying price points, from the very simple to the most complex, and from the single function to the tightly integrated. See the list below for a representative list of Donor Management Systems.

 Got questions? Add them to the comment section below...


Syndicate content