There are lots of factors to consider when shopping for a new online fundraising platform for nonprofits. Each platform will have its strengths and weaknesses. And every sales pitch will make you believe that platform is the solution to your problems.
If it's not the right fit, an online fundraising platform can be a headache for your organization. And with annual and sometimes multi-year contracts, it's an expensive mistake to make.
The most important step in the process is one that happens before you Google anything at all... You’ll need to ask yourself critical questions—and be really, really honest with your answers!
1. What data will need to go into a new online fundraising platform?
You might have a current software subscription you’re looking to move away from. Or maybe your donor “database” is nothing more than a collection of Excel spreadsheets. Either way, you’ll want to take stock of your data situation.
First, how many donor records (contacts) do you have? Many platforms charge based on this number.
Is data consistent across all records? Do you have full names, addresses, emails, and donation history for each one? Are there duplicates, misspellings, or omissions? Consider what level of cleanup your data will need before it’s imported into a new platform.
2. How much do we know about our donors—and what can we do with that information?
Maybe it’s crucial that you know the ZIP+4 code for your supporters, as well as their political affiliation. Maybe you need in-depth engagement history, including every time they've clicked a link in an email.
Or perhaps, instead, you only need to know your donor’s email address and the kinds of info they want to receive from your organization.
Collecting and effectively using donor data and demographics is an investment of time and resources. Be realistic about what you need and what you have the capacity to do.
3. What’s our level of comfort with technology?
Your staff must have a reasonable level of technical savvy to effectively use an online fundraising platform... Take some time to get clear on who, exactly, will need to use any new system you implement. (And remember that it may need to involve more than your fundraising staff.)
Look for a platform that you can realistically expect them to understand and use.
4. What kind of maintenance do we have the time and resources to engage in?
Any online fundraising platform needs regular data input and maintenance. You’ll need a primary “owner” of the software. Someone on staff must deeply understand the system and how to keep it working.
Again, be realistic about the time commitment and the technical know-how of your staff. You don’t want to choose a platform that will be labor-intensive, for example, if your organization can’t spare the time.
5. What level of tech support are we looking for in an online fundraising platform?
Technical support, training, and platform customization vary widely from one online fundraising platform to another. While every sales representative will swear their platform’s tech support is unparalleled, you’ll want to make sure you understand what that actually means... And how it squares up to what’s best for your organization.
If your staff tends to prefer live chat or email, it might not matter if phone support isn't offered. If your staff isn't as tech savvy, though, troubleshooting over the phone might be important.
Additionally, think about the time you have for learning a new online fundraising platform. Some offer live training webinars or full suites of introductory videos. Others might offer one-on-one phone calls for your staff.
The perfect online fundraising platform is the one you’ll use.
The best way to ensure success with any new online fundraising platform is to take time to outline and understand your organization’s unique needs.
Don’t forget—the best platform for your organization is one you’ll actually use!